“The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes matters into his hands.
For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life…and then his own.”
I generally have a rule that I don’t watch movies based off of books until I’ve read them. To me, it’s the only way to truly understand the story that the author was trying to tell. In the case of this book, I actually did the opposite. I watched the movie first, then read the book a few years later. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had done such a great job with the movie.
I have to be honest, I have a love hate relationship with this story. From a moral perspective, I find it hard to view Carl Lee Hailey and Jake Brigance as the heroes and D.A. Rufus Buckley as the villain. Yes, Carl Lee had a right to be angry and to despise the two young men who raped and attempted to murder his little girl. He had every right to want to kill them. However, they were arrested and on trial. They were being dealt with by the judicial system and they were not getting out of jail anytime soon. Carl Lee, knowing all of this, still decided to take the law into his own hands, killing the two young men and injuring a police officer in the process. Jake does everything in his power to free Carl Lee, even while knowing that he’s guilty. Now I know that it’s his job to do everything that he can to save his client. I do understand and accept that. My issue is that I don’t think Carl Lee or Jake are heroes, like the story paints them to be.
I found out recently that A Time to Kill was actually John Grisham’s first book, but no one was interested in reading it. Like I said, it’s controversial. Not only for the reasons I already mentioned, but also because it deals with racism. The Ku Klux Klan is heavily involved in the story which, naturally, means that the ‘n’ word is used excessively. John Grisham decided to write The Firm and wait a few years before trying to release A Time to Kill again. When he did eventually release the book, it was a hit because people were willing to read a controversial story written by the famous author who wrote The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client.
It’s interesting to me that John Grisham got the inspiration for this book from To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly admirable, not like Atticus Finch, and it wasn’t a book about saving someone who was innocent. I guess the similarities really just came down to the race issue.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of John Grisham’s work. He’s a brilliant and engaging writer who deals with tough topics and I appreciate that. His books are thought provoking and I enjoy dialoguing with other people who have read his books because they always spark interesting conversations and friendly debates, which is what I’ve always liked about controversial books. I really did enjoy A Time to Kill and, while I didn’t agree with every message in the story, I definitely did appreciate the very strong message of racial reconciliation. A message that will, unfortunately, always be relevant.