A Time to Kill is an underrated Joel Schumacher movie, which tackles the subject matter of racism in a captivating way. In it, we see actors like Matthew McGonaughey and Samuel L. Jackson give A+ performances. I’m not saying this in jest, I mean it. However, in this ensemble cast, there are plenty of other actors and actresses who do an admirable job. In turn, I’m really excited to write this list, as there are many well-written characters in A Time to Kill. Thus, I give to you, the list of the top 10 best characters in A Time to Kill!
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10. Ethel Twitty
We’re starting off the list with our “Southern Lady”, Ethel Twitty. She’s as strong as she’s sassy, with a distinct personality and strong morals, who’s unwavering in doing what’s right. Come hell or high water, she’s going to do her job, even if people around her get hurt!
When her husband died from injuries sustained at the hands of Freddie Lee Cobb and his pals, she didn’t get mad at Jake. I guess Ethel Twitty understood that this case was bigger than all of them. In turn, she was in the same pot as Jake, Harry and Ellen; all of them put their necks on the line for this case. Thus, she gives A Time to Kill more heart; not that it’s necessary, but something I wholeheartedly welcome and appreciate.
Brenda Fricker‘s performance should be applauded; it’s a small role, but she elevates it with her warm personality that shines through every line she delivers. She wants to be there, and she wants to be seen and heard. It’s as clear as day. Thus, she deserves some props, and I’m willing to give her the love she deserves. In turn, she’s the 10th on my list of the top 10 best A Time to Kill characters!
9. Rufus Buckley
Rufus Buckley is the slimey district attorney, who’s more interested in the press and the media attention, than the actual case itself. He’s a snake in the grass, who’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a case, but he’s never truly invested. It doesn’t look like he’s ever too concerned or bothered by anything that transpires. This leads me to believe that he looks at his job as a job, and that’s about it. No more, no less. While it’s a double-edged sword quality, it doesn’t help Rufus Buckley to stand out. Would he have been more emotionally invested, with a more in-depth backstory, he would’ve been a much better character.
The biggest knock on Rufus Buckley is that he could’ve been played by anybody. Kevin Spacey didn’t do much with the character, and while he did a good job, we didn’t see him shine as he usually does. Therefore, I think that Rufus Buckley was a good character, who took up a bulk of the screentime, without giving much of it back. I simply mean that Kevin Spacey did not utilize his time well, and that lead to a good performance, when there was a making for an excellent one!
8. Dwayne Looney
Some of you might find me looney for placing Dwayne this high, but can you really deny Chris Cooper‘s stellar acting ability? It’s a classic case of the actor making the character bigger and more important than he actually is to the film. After all, Dwayne Looney is just a cop who got caught in the crossfire, when Carl Lee Hailey was spraying and praying to hit the two sickos. I mean, it wasn’t like Dwayne Looney had a big role in the film. It’s just that Chris Cooper gave us an excellent performance, with his scene in the hospital and in the courtroom being the most noteworthy ones. In turn, he ranks high on my list of the best A Time to Kill characters.
7. Omar Noose
Who could’ve thought that Patrick McGoohan could play such a convincing judge? I didn’t see that coming, but everything from his aura to his body language screams JUDGE to me. I mean, even his posture and sentence structure are really fitting, making Omar Noose come across as a proper judge. While it’s high praise, it’s well-deserved, considering that the role of “judge” is played by so many people in so many movies/series. Therefore, it’s actually impressive when someone is able to make the role their own. Simply put, Patrick McGoohan succeeds where most other actors fail miserably.
6. Freddie Lee Cobb
Kiefer Sutherland has played a variety of different characters, with Freddie Lee Cobb being his most daring role to date, and I mean it. To think that he would put on a hood and be this good at being a gut-wrenchingly despicable human being? From his ability to fit into this ensemble cast to his emotional investment in the character, he was climbing a steep hill. I just did not believe that Kiefer had a character like this in him, you know? I needed to see it to believe it. Now that I’ve seen it, I can say that his performance was great, as I simply hated him. That is exactly what an antagonist is supposed to make you feel, so he did what he was supposed to, and did it rather well.
When it comes to the quality of the character itself, I must say that Freddie Lee Cobb is rather simple, yet well-executed. After all, his entire persona revolves around his grief, turned into a sick and twisted hatred towards an entire race. It’s a character type we’ve seen before; done much better by others. However, I will give credit to Kiefer’s performance, as that’s the main reason I find Freddie to be a good character. It’s the emotional commitment to the role, that takes this character to the 6th spot on the list; not the writing. Playing a convincing character is not the same as a well-written one. That’s something I felt like I needed to clarify. Anyhow, he’s 6th, in my count down of the top 10 best characters of A Time to Kill.
5. Lucien Wilbanks
How on earth can Donald Sutherland be comfortable in every single role? He never seems to be out of place. It’s like he makes every character work to his style of acting, and that’s just an amazing talent, isn’t it? While there’s more to it than just Donald’s acting ability, let’s just say that without him, this character would’ve most likely ranked much lower on my list.
Lucien Wilbanks is a peculiar character, that works well as Jake’s old mentor, with an obvious alcohol problem. There’s an underlying feeling of grit, liveliness and emotional strength that makes Lucien come across as a good and reliable person. While he rarely shows those positive sides to himself, he’s not so far gone that he can’t be good to the good people around him. In turn, Lucien is a character that is whatever the writers need him to be. On one hand, he can be an ignorant drunk, who can’t get over his past mistakes. Then, on the other hand, he can be a well-mannered mature man, who gives excellent advice. While this quality is equally as good as it is bad, I found it good in this particular scenario, as Lucien’s role was that of Jake’s old mentor, with a revoked license and a love-hate world view.
All in all, I wish that Lucien Wilbanks had more time on the screen. He’s an individual with an intriguing backstory, someone who Jake looks up to, and his personality is entertaining. But sadly, we didn’t get a good idea of who this individual was, and we were constantly left with a feeling that we wanted more of him. It is what it is, right? He’s still the 5th best in my ranking of the top 10 best characters of A Time to Kill!
4. Ozzie Walls
Ozzie Walls is one of the pillars of A Time to Kill. Charles S. Dutton brings the character to life in more than just behavior, but also stern perspective and a “do the right thing” mindset. He’s not afraid to put his neck on the line if need be, and so Ozzie Walls often feels like a big teddy bear we can always rely on. It’s a character without any shown flaws, and an abundance of likeable qualities. He has a sense of humor, he understands the depth of the case around Carl Lee Hailey, and he doesn’t shy away from taking actiong. It’s an all-around likeable character.
While he’s not necessarily an interesting character like Freddie Lee Cobb or Lucien Wilbanks, Ozzie Walls fills a different role entirely. He’s almost like our moral compass of the movie; an individual who does what’s right at all times. I’m stating the obvious, aren’t I? After all, he’s a police officer. So, it makes sense that it’s the role he’d play. However, he does so with a very human element, making him feel like a genuinelly good cop who wants change. In turn, I’m ranking Ozzie Walls as the 4th best on my list of the best A Time to Kill Characters!
3. Ellen Roark
Sandra Bullock‘s charm goes a long way in making Ellen Roark interesting, as the character in and of itself, isn’t particularly noteworthy. We’re talking about an individual with rich parents, a knack for law, and a want for making the world a better place. It’s not necessarily a bad start to making Ellen Roark interesting. However, the writers never explore these topics enough to make for an engaging character. Instead, what we have here is Sandra adding some much-needed spice to an underdeveloped character.
Maybe we started off on the wrong foot when it comes to Ellen Roark? After all, I believe her to be the 3rd best character in A Time to Kill. If that’s the case, what’s the reason for her position on my list? First and foremost, Ellen Roark’s role in the story is well-written. The way in which she turns up out of nowhere, showing interest in a case she knows will shape the future, and doing it all without a personal reason. She barely interacts with Carl Lee Hailey. Thus, she’s an individual who has a genuine interest in law and she loves what she does, in hopes of one day becoming a lawyer herself. It’s just a very well-written role, that requires the right actress and the right setting to pull off properly, especially if you’re not going to explore her backstory.
Ellen Roark’s light-hearted nature and relatable personality are also some of the positives that make her a good character; qualities that are amplified heavily by Sandra Bullock, who was perfectly cast for the role of Ellen Roark. Therefore, I feel like the 3rd spot is perfect.
2. Carl Lee Hailey
A Time to Kill is a movie from the 90’s, which means that Samuel L. Jackson was still putting in effort, which is clear as day in his character, Carl Lee Hailey. I apologize for the much-needed back-handed compliment. But I won’t say sorry for how much I liked Samuel’s performance in this movie. I was just floored by how he was able to encapsulate a devastated father, who’d be willing to do whatever to make things right, in his own mind. It’s a very emotional role to play. But do you know what? Samuel L. Jackson did a really good job. It’s one of his greatest roles to date, and I mean it! Thus, I’d say his the second best of these characters in my top 10 in A Time to Kill!
1. Jake Brigance
The role of Jake Brigance is well-known for being Matthew McConaughey‘s breakthrough role, and for good reason! It’s not just a great performance, Matthew pours his entire existence into making Jake Brigance come across extremely realistic. His kind heart, good moral code, and a knack for law, are embedded into every pore of Jake Brigance. It doesn’t feel like a character. In fact, I felt like he was one of the most human characters I’ve seen in film EVER! This is one of the best acting performances of all time, showing us all how important subtlety is in making a character feel authentic and true to himself.
Matthew Was to Audition for Freddie Lee Cobb!?
Did you know that Matthew McConaughey went to audition for the role of Freddie Lee Cobb!? Thank God, he came to his senses and chose to do a private screentest to play Jake Brigance. What a life changing decision, right? After all, this role was Matthew’s breakthrough role.
Jake Brigance Is A Perfect Character
When it comes to creating a very grounded character, look no further than Matthew; it’s kind of his specialty. It doesn’t even matter if the character is unrealistic on paper; he makes them realistic with his approach. He doesn’t look at Jake Brigance as someone who’s different from himself, but he finds himself in the character. It’s easily seen in his way of conveying emotion and his utterly subtle hints in body language. There’s a rhyme and reason for everything that he does, and nothing feels out of place. It could be a moment where he’s angry, he cries or he just talks. All of these moments, and more, are very human in approach. It’s a really difficult thing to explain, but a marvel to behold.
There’s no way I can crown Jake Brigance, without talking about his jaw-droppingly raw, and tear-jerking monologue at the end of the movie. It wasn’t just difficult to listen to, I felt sick to my stomach; wanting to throw up just as much as I wanted to cry. I was fueled with rage over what had happened to little Tonya Hailey. I was going through the same thoughts as Jake, and I would’ve done the same thing that Carl Lee Hailey did. It was a monologue that resonated with me on a very deep level. It ended with me having a difficult time breathing, with tears running down my face, as I was disgusted by what had happened. If it wasn’t for Matthew’s Oscar-worthy performance, I doubt I would’ve felt all of those emotions. It was PERFECT.
I Applaud You, Matthew!
Alright, alright, alright! I suppose it’s time to crown Matthew McGonaughey’s Jake Brigance as the best character of A Time to Kill! I will do it gladly. Jake Brigance takes the 1st place on my list of the top 10 best characters in A Time to Kill! 👑