Jagged Edge (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Though it has been four years since Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close) walked away from practicing law, a case involving the murders of a woman named Page Forrester (Maria Mayenzet) and the household help puts her right back into the courtroom. The main suspect is Page’s husband, Jack (Jeff Bridges), the editor of The San Francisco Times, because he is the sole beneficiary to all of her multi-million dollar assets. Mr. Forrester’s case does not look good because a janitor claims to have seen the murder weapon, a serrated hunting knife, in Jack’s country club locker. Despite this, Teddy believes he is innocent.
“Jagged Edge,” written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Richard Marquand, is a courtroom thriller that is very much like soup. It is made up of many ingredients, from Teddy wrestling with her guilt of having sent an innocent man to prison, colorful people answering questions under oath, to a prosecutor with one thing to hide but a lot to lose. Though the basic structure is familiar, it is executed with so much energy that is quite easy to buy into the story and try to figure out the killer’s identity. I did not guess correctly.
Close does a wonderful job playing a strong defense attorney, a gentle mother of two children, and a woman slowly falling for her client. In each respective scene, she is very good, but when two or three spheres touch each other, she excels. Close has a knack toward wearing a lot of subtle emotions on her face especially when she sits still. I could not help but wonder what sorts of questions her character thinks about when she stumbles over her expectations being derailed just a few degrees.
I looked forward to Teddy’s interactions with the District Attorney Thomas Krasney (Peter Coyote). Although details of their former partnership are largely absent, the sheer power of the two of them being within five feet of one another is uncomfortable. They want to win the case because they think they are fighting for what is right. And yet they also want to win because it means the other is the loser. The competition between the two is enjoyable.
What does not work is the first and last ten minutes. There is a level of exaggeration in showing a masked intruder breaking into a house that it feels sort of like a bad reenactment of a crime. Accompanied by a score that is meant to be suspenseful but is actually cheap, I thought about really trashy horror-thrillers where the sole point is to show women getting sliced up. I would have preferred for the crime to have been painted in our heads solely through the dialogue and images presented in the courtroom.
The romance between Teddy and Jack has some sweetness which is nicely balanced with the way Teddy interacts with her two children. (She is divorced.) There is only one scene when the two worlds collide but I admired that the moment is treated with honesty even though it is what we come to expect. The screenplay and direction pay close attention to potentially throwaway but personal moments and so there is something at stake when the camera is in the courtroom.