Let Him Have It (1991)
★★★ / ★★★★
The thing about the death penalty is that once it has been carried out, there is no way of undoing. Most everybody knows this. And yet, still, there remains a gap between awareness and practice.
There was a miscarriage of justice in January 28, 1953 when the British government put Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) to death by hanging. Only nineteen years of age and with an IQ of 77, he was convicted of murdering a cop—despite him not even shooting the gun responsible for the ending the police officer’s life. His sixteen-year-old friend, Chris (Paul Reynolds), was the one who pressed the trigger and was released after serving ten years in prison.
Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, “Let Him Have It” is a film that inspires one to think about the facts specific to the subject in question. The story is essentially divided into two: pre-climax, which shows Derek’s life and his struggles to incorporate fully in society, and post-climax, which focuses on the trial and the aftermath of the jury’s wrong call. Credit goes to the writers for minimizing the melodrama. There is already tension in its veins because the material appeals—or should appeal—to our moral codes.
I found the pre-climax to be a little long. While it is necessary to show the backgrounds of both Derek and Chris, the pacing might have been a lot smoother if only a third of the picture had been dedicated to show Derek’s unique circumstances. After about three or four scenes of him being involved with Chris and other boys who reckon themselves tough guys, modeling their looks and purpose to seemingly ultra-cool gangsters in American films, it begins to feel repetitive eventually. There is one shocking scene, however, that takes place in a classroom and how most of the students bring and trade guns when the teacher is away.
There is chemistry between Eccleston and Reynolds which is very necessary in a story like this. Though it appears the two characters barely have anything in common, the actors always carry an emotion in their eyes. There is a sadness in both of them. Reynolds’ character wishes to prove that he is tough, despite having a short stature, the kind of guy not to be messed with—like his criminal brother. Eccleston’s character, too, has something to prove: That he can belong. Though I knew it would never happen, I still tried to will him into finding a different crowd to find belongingness.
The scenes take that place in the courtroom is filled with heavy suspense, not because we do not know what will happen but because we know exactly what is going to happen. Otherwise, why tell this story at all? I found myself to be highly invested in whatever is or whoever has anything to say. I wanted to know how the presentation of facts and opinions led to the conviction. It is tough to watch.
Directed by Peter Medak, “Let Him Have It” is an intelligent and thoughtful picture, highly recommended to those looking for movies that tell stories too outrageous to be believed. But it really did happen. Once the credits started rolling, I remained to sit in my chair for a couple of minutes, emotionally exhausted, saddened, and disappointed—not of the picture but of how injustice had been allowed to happen. It goes to show that there is a clear difference between the law and what is right.