Just Cause (film)

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Just Cause
Just cause ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byArne Glimcher
Produced byArne Glimcher
Steve Perry
Lee Rich
Written byJeb Stuart
Peter Stone
Based onJust Cause
by John Katzenbach
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyLajos Koltai
Edited byWilliam M. Anderson
Armen Minasian
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 17, 1995 (1995-02-17)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$27 million
Box office$36.8 million

Just Cause is a 1995 American crime thriller film directed by Arne Glimcher and starring Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne. It is based on John Katzenbach's novel of the same name. The film was poorly received by critics.


Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery), a liberal Harvard professor and former lawyer opposed to capital punishment, is persuaded by an elderly woman (Ruby Dee) to go to Florida to investigate the conviction of her grandson Bobby Earl Ferguson (Blair Underwood) for murder. Ferguson, a former Cornell University student, was convicted of raping and brutally murdering a young white girl named Joanie Shriver (Barbara Jean Kane) eight years prior. Ferguson tells Armstrong that he was physically and psychologically tortured by two police detectives to get a forced confession, but firmly states he is innocent. Armstrong, believing in his innocence, must save him from being executed in the electric chair. As Armstrong digs deeper into the case, he discovers that Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne), the chief detective on the case, did indeed coerce Ferguson's confession.

Ferguson tells the professor that the murder was actually committed by Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris), a serial killer awaiting execution. According to Ferguson, Sullivan constantly taunts him about his conviction for the crime. Sullivan, through the use of Biblical cryptic clues, later reveals the location of the knife used to kill the girl. Armstrong and Brown go to the place, where Armstrong asks Brown to retrieve the knife as Brown's the actual police officer. Brown tries to threaten Armstrong into abandoning the investigation. Armstrong then discovers why Brown is so passionate to get Ferguson convicted: the murdered girl was Brown's daughter's best friend. With a new testimony and with the murder weapon at hand, Ferguson gets a re-trial and is acquitted and thereafter freed from prison. Subsequently, the governor authorizes Sullivan's execution.

Armstrong receives a call from Sullivan, who says he has a final clue to share, but first wants Armstrong to visit Sullivan's parents and tell them he said goodbye. Arriving at the house, Armstrong sees various religious items before finding their butchered decaying bodies. Back at the prison, Sullivan gloats that he and Ferguson struck a deal: Ferguson would kill Sullivan's parents in exchange for freedom, while Sullivan would claim responsibility for the girl's murder, which Ferguson did in fact commit. Armstrong asks why he was needed for their scheme, and Sullivan replies that was "Bobby Earl's call", meaning that Armstrong would be much more believable in establishing the verdicts than either Ferguson or Sullivan. Armstrong, in his anger at being played, lies to Sullivan and tells him his parents were alive and that they "forgive him." Sullivan becomes enraged. Afterwards, he is forcefully taken by the guards to the electric chair, where he is executed.

Armstrong and Brown go after Ferguson, after Armstrong suspects that Ferguson has kidnapped his wife and daughter. Ferguson's motives for everything turn out to be a desire for revenge on Armstrong's wife Laurie (Kate Capshaw); she was the prosecutor against him in a previous rape trial which, while thrown out of court on a technicality, resulted in him being brutalized and castrated in jail, as well as being kicked out of Cornell and losing a scholarship in the process. At the local regional swamps, Armstrong finds his wife and daughter in a small shack, where Ferguson appears. Ferguson's plans include raping and murdering Armstrong's wife and daughter (Scarlett Johansson) and then disappearing. At a critical moment, Brown reappears (after seemingly being attacked and killed by Ferguson) and he and Armstrong join forces. They wound Ferguson, who drowns and is subsequently eaten by an alligator. Armstrong's family is thus saved.



Sean Connery turned down the role of King Edward I for the film Braveheart so he could do this film. Will Smith was in talks to take on the role of Bobby Earl Ferguson. Connery and director Arne Glimcher are close friends, & Glimcher took on directing duties in favor for Sean so they can both work on the film together.

Principal photography began on May 16, 1994. Filming took place in and around the state of Florida. Locations includes Lee County, Collier County, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Fort Denaud, Miami Beach and Gainesville. Filming also includes Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Production wrapped on August 2, 1994. This film also marks the final theatrical film for Hope Lange.


Unlike Glimcher's previous film, The Mambo Kings, Just Cause received mostly negative reviews, with a "Rotten" 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews.[1] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both commented that the film's first half is quite good, particularly as a character study, but in its second half it becomes buried in gratuitous plot twists before ending in a ludicrous showdown. However, Siskel ultimately recommended the film, while Ebert did not.[2][3] Janet Maslin praised the performances of Laurence Fishburne and Ed Harris, but found the entire film is colored by director Arne Glimcher's inappropriately polished and antiseptic visual style. She summarized it as "a crime story so gritless that even the forensic photos of a stabbing victim look good."[4] Lisa Schwarzbaum likewise praised Fishburne's performance and blamed the film's artistic failure on the direction, saying Glimcher consistently drained the story of its thrills with heavy-handedness. She gave the film a C-.[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]


Just Cause was released on February 17, 1995 in 2,052 theatres. It opened at #2 at the box office grossing $10.6 million in its opening weekend. It remained at #2 for its second week, grossing $6.6 million. After 5 weeks in theatres, the film went on to gross $36.8 million, making it a moderate success.[7]


  1. ^ "Just Cause". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  2. ^ "The Brady Bunch Movie, Just Cause, Billy Madison, Mr. Payback, 1995". Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved 28 July 2019. Event occurs at 1:28-4:40.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 17, 1995). "Just Cause". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 17, 1995). "FILM REVIEW; Helping an Innocent on Death Row". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  5. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (February 24, 1995). "Just Cause". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  6. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  7. ^ "The 'Brady' Hunch Pays at Box Office : Movies: The film, based on the squeaky-clean '70s TV family, is thriving in the '90s with a solid opening weekend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03.

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