Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"A Murder of Crows": rogue "Lincoln" lawyers and plagiarism

Lionsgate’s DVD of the 1999 “thriller” from Franchise Pictures, “A Murder of Crows”, brings up several issues besides the obvious one about the consequences of “plagiarism” (not the same as copyright infringement).

Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Lawson Russell, a lawyer in pre-Katrina New Orleans, who may sound about as incompetent as William Hurt’s character in “Body Heat”.  He turns on his apparently guilty client in court, and that gets him disbarred.   Now, the movie could go the direction of “The Lincoln Lawyer”, but it quickly shifts gears.  But this whole prologue caught my eye, because in my own controversial screenplay “The Sub”, the defense lawyer railroads a substitute teacher into accepting jail after a somewhat false accusation for misconduct with a student – a premise that stirred things up in school systems when found on the Internet.

Gooding meets a writer with a draft of a mystery thriller where lawyers get knocked off. (Okay, that’s closer to “Lincoln Lawyer” country, where a private-eye gets it.)   Gooding has to make some money (urgency is a mandatory matter in screenwriting). When the writer dies of a heart attack, Gooding takes the manuscript and sends it to publishers as his own. He says “writing is hard”. Tell me about it.

He becomes a darling in the trade publishing world, which doesn’t know he doesn’t have a real novel in him (he wouldn’t even make the midlist).  It’s interesting to me that self-publishing (like Vince Flynn, the Minnesota thriller novelist who made a smash with his “Cloak and Dagger Press”) doesn’t get mentioned.  That would certain make a different movie.

Then, one day, Russell is pulled off the street by police, who say that everything in the book is true. All the lawyers had won cases for “unsavory clients” (Lincoln again).

Now he has to prove he didn’t write the book.  His own first defense lawyer isn’t rather antagonistic.
Since this is 1999, there are some artefacts, like a Compaq PC.

The DVD, an older one, unfortunately is formatted full screen. 

The name of this film also appears as the name of an episode of the PBS Nature series. 

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