There's something satisfying about watching a courtroom drama. Perhaps it is our innate desire to see the villain get what they deserve or the thrill of the chase as we see the noose tightening around them. It could also be the fact that a courtroom drama relies heavily on facts and dialogues - no flashy CGI, no action-packed scenes and no sudden romance. It is storytelling in its simplest form - a slow unravelling of a tale. but even within the four walls of a courtroom, exceptional movies have been made.
While the movies on this list do not take place within a courtroom in their entirety, a large portion of the scenes is shot in there. The plot is mainly driven by the attorneys and prosecutors and unexpected evidence and testimonials. Whether you're looking for a movie with an innocent protagonist fighting for justice, or a villain trying to scramble their way out - the list has them all.
1. The Attorney
The directorial debut of Yang Woo-suk, The Attorney was a massively successful courtroom drama that went on to be the second highest-grossing film of 2013. this is in part due to the brilliant execution, and in part due to the film being based on the real-life Burim Case from 1981. The controversial real-life case was based on false charges being pinned on a group of students and teachers from Burim who were accused of being communists or North Korea sympathisers. The movie follows the real-life plot diligently with some dramatic additions. The protagonist is an attorney named Song, played by Song Kang-ho of Parasite fame. He started off as a small-time attorney and rose up the legal ladder by taking up cases that no one else wanted to deal with. His lack of taste in choosing cases results in other lawyers looking down upon him, but Attorney Song is now a well-off lawyer with his own yacht and home.
When he finds out that the son of his friend (the owner of a restaurant he frequents) is arrested on charges of sedition, he decides to take up the case. What he discovers is confessions extracted by torture, illegal warrants and confinement. In real life, the final hearing ran until 2012, and the final accused was proclaimed not guilty after 32 long years. some of the acquitted party tried to press charges on the policemen who tortured them, but the charges could not be carried out due to the statute of limitations expiring. The movie packs both emotional and humourous punches. It is a delicate introspection of the case that begins in a humorous vein and then sharply veers into the direction of a fast[-paced political thriller.
A movie that packs it all - humour, mystery, crime, fast-paced action and a good plot. Byeon Ho-sung is a lawyer who has never lost a single case. He is egoistic, smart and of course a narcissist. Thrilled by his reputation, the leader of a large conglomerate requests him to take up the case of his chauffeur. The chauffeur Kim has been arrested for the murder of a girl, but Byeon Ho-sung is sure of winning the case - there is, after all, no body. The only thing to go by is a large pool of blood. However, his plan falls back on its heels, when Kim suddenly confessed to the crime on the last day of the hearing!
Byeon Ho-sung still believes his client to be innocent and so, embarks on a journey to find out who the real murdered is - if there has been a murder at all. What he uncovers might ultimately put his own life on the line. The movie is full of unexpected twists and turns, with loads of comic relief in between. We have characters in black and white - the quintessential villain and the sidekick, the delicate damsel, and our own hero. This is a fun adventure that shows not all courtroom movies need to be dialogue heavy!
Innocence is several things at once - it is a courtroom drama about a lawyer fighting to prove her client's innocence, it is also the story of a mother and a daughter, a sister and a brother. A bit on the longer side, the movie explores the complex relationships within a family while also acting as a whodunnit that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat for two hours. Jung-in is a lawyer, who suddenly finds herself in a bind. Her mother has been accused of poisoning 5 people at her father's funeral. Jung-in doesn't think her mother, who suffers from dementia is capable of this. However, with an autistic son she needs to protect, Jung-in's mother prefers to turn herself in than have the police go after her son. As Jung-in tries to unravel the mystery, she comes across conflicting pieces of information and attempts by the police to put an end to her search.
The movie opens with several questions - Why does Jung-in not visit her mother? Why did someone poison the people in the first place? The gripping plot slowly unravels to reveal all mysteries. The plot is partly based on Jung-in's investigations and partly set in a courtroom where she deals with a two-faced mayor, played to perfection by Heo Joon‑ho.
4. The Client
This is the tale of a man implicated for a crime he did not commit. Han Chul-min returns home on his wedding anniversary to find his wife missing with a large pool of blood on the bedroom floor. The police are already upon the scene and he is immediately arrested. but it is difficult to find enough evidence to link Han to the crime. There is no body and Han has no fingerprints - he works at a chemical laboratory and working with strong substances every day has left his fingertips with no feasible print. He is acquitted due to lack of evidence and the case remains unsolved.
Prosecutor Kang believes in Han's innocence and he decides to take up the case and apply for another trial. Kang clashes against Prosecutor Ahn and the two are revealed to be long-time enemies. What follows is an intense hour of courtroom drama as the two prosecutors try to outwit one another. There are shady deals going on beneath the surface - bribed eyewitnesses, fake confessions, false allegations and more. Han represents the husband with a blank stare who seldom lets his emotions surface. His refusal to react and the subtle changes in his character throughout the film make it an interesting watch on any given day. The Client is a fast-paced courtroom drama shot almost entirely within a courtroom and one that relies heavily on the actors (who carry it off well).
In 2009, actress Jang Ja-Yeon committed suicide. The cause was believed to be a sexual and physical assault by her company's head and several executive-level personnel. The investigation into the cause of her death was heavily biased and resulted in a national uproar. Norigae is a film based on a similar premise. After the death of an actress, a reporter and prosecutor try to get to the bottom of the case and find the people responsible. However, they hit road bumps on every corner as the people involved want to keep the case closed - and can afford to do so.
The implicated person is a newspaper mogul but no one dares to cross him in court. The media is in an uproar, but it soon dies down. Lee Jang-ho is the reporter whose heydays are long gone. He was once an employee at the same newspaper agency. The prosecutor Kim Mi-hyeon is new and inexperienced and facing off with a hugely successful team on the other end. with the finding of the actress's dairy, crucial information can be found out. Now it's up to Lee Jang-ho to make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands. The diary also reveals the actress's cries for help, which went ignored. Not only the two people involved, but several friends and relatives found themselves now dealing with signs that they had failed to recognise. Sadly, the story ends with the accused running scott-free. Money and power can be very persuasive. Norigae is a great thriller, filled with its share of emotional moments but endings like these make one wonder what lies beneath the veneer of the glittering entertainment industry.
Know more courtroom dramas and thrillers that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below!