If you like a seamless mix of courtroom drama and legal thriller with twists that continually surprise, you will enjoy The Advocate by writer/director Tamas Harangi. It has followed the film festival circuit and gathered steam, premiering at the 2013 Durango Independent Film Festival to sold out screenings. At Durango it won the JUROR AWARD AND AUDIENCE AWARD for BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE. The film moved to its West Coast premiere at the Dances With Films Festival 2013 in LA in the Spring, To conclude the circuit it will be in LA screening at the 13th Hungarian Film Festival of Los Angeles. The cast and director, Tamas Harangi will be present on Sunday, November 17th for the screening and a Q & A afterward. This final festival will preclude The Advocate’s coming out on DVD November 19th. The DVD features a commentary between director and writer Tamas Harangi and the film’s editor David Abramson, discussing their two year journey making the film.
The premise of the film is chilling. In our justice system, often the innocent are convicted by their poverty and overworked, underpaid public defenders. They end up languishing on Death Row waiting for the appeals process to seek its final end, or they end up as one of the too numerous innocent killed by the state in a grave injustice while the real murderers go free to kill again. On the other hand wealthy murderers are often acquitted. They are aided by their prominent, well-heeled lawyers who have access to multiple resources and a superb team of like minded, brilliant colleagues who are blind and morally indifferent to equal justice under the law. How is justice meted out fairly? It isn’t, unless there is a route to establish “absolute justice.”
Ray Shekar (Sachin Mehta) is a truly exceptional criminal defense attorney. He has managed to yield 5 acquittals of clients who were accused of murder. He is considered the best that money can buy. Though Ray was planning to move on to other types of cases, he is asked to consult on a possible sixth case, that of a beautiful socialite who the coast guard found in a dislocated state of mind on her family’s boat. Allyson Daugherty (Kristina Klebe) and the cabin were steeped in blood which matched her husband’s type, though her husband’s body was never found. After a few days, investigators discover a knife with her prints on it, and with the blood at the scene, it is enough evidence to criminally indict her for her husband’s murder.
Piqued by ego, spurred by competition from another lawyer and intrigued by the client, Ray jettisons his plans to pursue other non criminal litigation. He signs on to defend Allyson Daugherty against the first degree murder charges. As Ray proceeds with his impeccable logic and his crack legal and investigative team (Steffinnie Phrommany, Marc Cardiff), there are a labyrinth of complications. He suspects his client is withholding information and is lying to him despite her protestations of innocence. He targets her manipulations and confronts her about her not revealing everything pertinent to the case.
Another problem is that LAPD Detective Perkins (Michael Raynor) and his colleague Detective Teller (Dalia Phillips) are trolling around. They question him about a former client of his who has been found dead in a suspicious accident. Ray handles the detectives with his usual incisive logic, and aplomb.
As he becomes emotionally involved in the Daugherty case, Ray is thrown more curves, some of which he anticipated, others which he did not. His migraines increase and the stress of missing his dead wife exacerbates his tension which he manages to control, even through flashbacks about the circumstances of her demise. To add to his stress, he is not sure whether or not Allyson Daugherty is guilty of killing her husband. In every case he has tried and garnered acquittals for, he was canny and intuitive about his client’s culpability. He can’t figure out Allyson.
Tamas Harangi has written a fine screenplay and directed a well crafted, thoughtful thriller that doesn’t presume anything but builds carefully until it delivers its revelation at the end. The actors deliver steady performances which are logical and real. There is an interesting ambiance of low light understatement weaving throughout that adds to the film’s power at the conclusion.
Certainly, it is a film for our time of economic gaps between the rich .01% and everyone else. The film asks underlying questions about fairness, justice and the right not to be convicted by one’s circumstances. It also questions if the rule of law is just law if its creation and execution is to protect the wealthy. Finally, it reveals the chiaroscuro of being an advocate like Ray Shekar.