Immigration and pursuit of a new life, in a new place far from home, is a massive undertaking. An alien culture, where one is considered an “alien”; where language barriers exist, and you have no one. It is here that people must trust others and go along with the flow. This belief sometimes becomes blind trust where accidents and negligence can lead to catastrophic situations that threaten one’s year’s worth of efforts. This forms the central focus of Lee Sunday Evans’ The Courtroom. It focuses on the trial of a Filipina immigrant for erratically registering to vote while not a US citizen.
A line right at the start informing audiences that The Courtroom is based on excerpts from real-life legal proceeding transcripts, only enhances the emotions exhibited by Kristen Villanueva’s Elizabeth Keathley as the audience empathizes with this “alien’s” plight.
The primary focus of this film is Mrs. Keathley’s advocate. She is determined, assured, and composed in her arguments to the judge and the chief justices. The actress commands the screen, making one forget about the unlit black backgrounds that serve as a frame for her performance in the initial part of the offering.
Mr. Keathley is another good performer, as his balanced testimony showed his calmness in the face of adversity. However, it is Mrs. Keathley who steals the show. With a basic grasp of English, her slow, loud, and tentative responses are laced with a tinge of fright and apprehension. Her wide-eyed looks reflect this feeling of trepidation and seem to be on the verge of tears. Villanueva successfully ensures that her character seems small and timid before the mighty justice system.
As Lee Sunday Evans adapted this off-broadway play, she ensured to keep the theatrical element (besides the expressive actors) in its cinematic presentation. To do so, Evans ensured that an unlit background (black) was present behind the gallery. Even when the advocates and the defendant proceed to the venue, they emerge from the darkness. It can be seen as similar to how performers enter the stage in a play.
Also, Read – 10 Movies Like 12 Angry Men That You Should Watch
By taking the creative decision to not have flashbacks featuring the incident that led to these legal proceedings, external elements related to the defendant’s family, and no distractions whatsoever; the makers opted to keep the focus solely on the emotional turmoil of Mrs. Keathley, the lawyers, the judges, and all the dialogues. The screenplay proves crucial here as each dialogue and line of direction proves to be crucial to keep the audience engaged in this compactly set movie. It also gave weight to the film’s title.
Besides showcasing the trial and the human aspect, writer Arian Moayed touches upon the legal aspect as well. Audiences get to learn about 18USC611, the frivolous application of laws, and how the word usage and dismissal of any minor element can serve as a foot in the door technique to present a better narrative. The writer also included some elements, such as a minor distraction, to infuse some real-life elements into the film.
Checkout Films from Tribeca Film Festival
Cinematographer Daisy Zhou may not have had much to do apart from framing the subject bang in the center. However, one thing caught my attention in a huge way. Its execution served to display the widening of the gap between the simple speaking common person from the complex technical legal jargon.
After having gone through the synopsis, one can understand that this courtroom is a place of dread for Elizabeth. A confused individual, she is in danger of deportation and the walls are closing in on her dream. Composer Daniel Kluger punctuates the dialogues with this haunting music that only serves to enhance Kristin Villanueva’s portrayal of a confused and accidentally misled immigrant. What’s good is that this music is subtle, and its absence proves beneficial at times. Considering the cinematic medium, the lack of music can transport audiences into the courtroom with apropos usage of diegetic sound. Evans opted to do so right at the start, set the tone well, and got me interested.
With precise emotions that evolve as time goes by and with powerfully delivered lines, The Courtroom is a captivating watch. It is a brilliant example of how well-written dialogues and exemplarily spoken content can result in an attractive display from which you will struggle to deviate your focus onto anything else. The film is proof that theater is king and we don’t need glamor to make a film stupendous.