Criminal Law (film)

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Criminal Law
Criminal Law.jpg
Directed by Martin Campbell
Produced by Hilary Heath
Robert MacLean
Written by Mark Kasdan
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Distributed by Hemdale Film Corporation
Release date
  • September 15, 1988 (1988-09-15) (TIFF)
  • April 28, 1989 (1989-04-28) (United States)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $9,974,446

Criminal Law is a 1988 American legal thriller film directed by Martin Campbell and starring Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. It received mixed-to-negative reviews.


Attorney Ben Chase successfully defends Martin Thiel, a wealthy, young playboy, getting him acquitted of a series of brutal murders—only to find out later that Thiel is indeed a serial killer. Since Thiel cannot be tried again for his crimes, Chase tries to get him to incriminate himself before he can kill again.



Roger Ebert wrote: "Criminal Law is a textbook example of a movie going wrong before our very eyes, because of the curious failure of the filmmakers to realize that you can toy with an audience only so long before the audience grows resentful... It's a shame such good performances were lost."[1] Variety commended the work of Oldman and Bacon, but criticized the story's "ill-defined pretensions as an essay on the American legal system and a herky-jerky continuity that's fatiguing instead of tingling".[2] Kevin Thomas felt that Criminal Law "proceeds from one weakness to another", but described Oldman as "electrifying".[3]

Peter Travers was less impressed by Oldman's performance, writing: "Oldman is a powerhouse... But what's a British actor doing playing a Harvard attorney in a Boston-based movie shot in Montreal? Flailing about like a drowning man, that's what. Oldman's [accent is] laughably in-and-out." He had additional criticism for the film's "overwrought script" and lack of "logic" and "subtlety".[4]

Slightly more favorable was Linda Rasmussen of AllMovie, who wrote that Oldman "gives an excellent performance", described Bacon as "intriguing and ambiguous", and praised the direction and action sequences. She concluded: "Criminal Law, if not taken very seriously and with more than a grain of salt, can be entertaining, but it fails miserably when compared to accurate, exciting legal thrillers such as Primal Fear.[5] The film holds a 33% approval rating at review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews, with an average score of 4.6/10.[6]


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