Dan Gilroy’s Five Favorite Legal Dramas


This week, the Village Voice’s print issue features a survey of what the fall has to offer in several cultural categories: art, books, dance, film, music, television, theater, and more. To complement this coverage, the Voice has asked artists with new work premiering this season to share lists of pieces that have inspired them throughout their careers. In this installment, the writer and director Dan Gilroy — whose Roman J. Israel, Esq. (out November 3 from Sony Pictures) stars Denzel Washington as a Los Angeles attorney — shares his five favorite legal dramas.

12 Angry Men (1957)
Apart from having a near-perfect narrative concept, the film captures the best and worst of our jury system: the battle between truth and biases; the lives hanging on the thread of a single vote. Riveting and sobering.

The Verdict (1982)
A stellar character study wrapped in a legal drama, with Paul Newman’s best performance (for me), as an alcoholic who finds redemption in a cause for justice. The film beautifully frames the pull and power of bringing wrongs to account. One of the all-time great endings.  

My Cousin Vinny (1992)
I’ve had lawyers tell me they teach this film in their class. Funny and broad, yes, but the movie wrestles down the messy complexities of a capital murder trial in a raw, realistic, and understandable way.

Reversal of Fortune (1990)
The entire film happens in the shadows of doubt. Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bülow is stellar, never allowing you to feel fully sure what the hell happened. Ron Silver as Alan Dershowitz makes the clear, compelling case that a lawyer’s job is to give the best defense possible regardless of how they feel toward the client. 

Michael Clayton (2007)
Might be biased [Editor’s note: Dan’s brother, Tony Gilroy, wrote and directed Michael Clayton], but it really captures the soulless intersection of big money and law: a case against a multinational that’s been going on for years; a firm blind to any reasons for being other than the bottom line; and George Clooney as a fixer/janitor caught in the middle. The final effect is equally moving and thought-provoking.