Jagged Edge (1985)

18 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many movies, but whenever I hear the setup for a thriller and I hear from other people (or most critics who are almost like people) that it has a “twist ending,” I always believe I can guess exactly what the twist is. And some of the time, I am correct. Twist endings just don’t surprise me anymore because when there are so many thrillers with these alleged turns, they’re just easier for me to guess.

I bring this up because the 1985 murder thriller “Jagged Edge,” written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Richard Marguand, is notable for its particular twist ending. And even though I didn’t know the twist, I knew there was one. And so, being the investigative reviewer that I am, I kept track of all the clues as the story continued. What surprised me, however, was just how much was being pitched into the story. In this particular “whodunit” mystery, we have clue upon clue upon clue, as they’re all introduced sneakily and smoothly. So by the time that particular twist came along, I must confess I did not guess correctly what the resolution was going to be.

“Jagged Edge” is a thriller that recalls the Hitchcock direction in that it likes to “play the audience like a piano.” In this case, with everything being thrown at us (and if we’re all caught up in the mystery), we can’t help but decide whodunit ourselves. It’s an efficiently made, well-put-together thriller that kept me on edge until the very last shot.

The mystery is this—Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges), a San Francisco publisher, is accused of brutally murdering his wife. As the assistant Defense Attorney Krasny (Peter Coyote) points out, Jack has the motive, which is he may have murdered his wife so that he could inherit her entire fortune. Jack’s defense attorney is Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close), who used to work for Krasny and hasn’t worked in criminal law for four years since. She chooses to take the case because as she spends time with Jack, she’s convinced that he’s innocent…but also convinced that they’re in love, which only makes things a little more complicated.

Aside from the tricky storytelling, what really makes “Jagged Edge” stand out is the character of Teddy Barnes, played by Glenn Close with a great mix of vulnerability and intelligence. This is mainly her story that is centered upon in this film. We find that she hasn’t taken courtroom cases because of a certain case four years ago in which an innocent man still went to prison and later hanged himself. Seeing this new case, and believing her client truly is innocent, she sees this as a way of redemption. Even though some people believe Jack is guilty, Teddy is determined to prove otherwise and get him off the hook—she states right at the start, “If he didn’t do it, I’ll get him off.” And then she starts to fall for Jack the more time she spends with him. But then there’s the court case itself—it turns out there is a lot of evidence on both sides, and this is where Teddy (and as a result, ourselves included) asks herself a lot of questions. Is she defending Jack out of bias because she loves him? Did Jack really kill his wife? Did he not, like she thinks? Is she defending a brutal killer who may just as well murder her soon enough? The most unnerving aspect of “Jagged Edge” is that both sides of the case state plausible reasons to be true, leaving us to keep guessing what is true and what’s not. What can we truly believe?

Glenn Close does a wonderful job playing the protagonist, and you really do feel for her when she’s trying to figure things out and when her life is in peril. Jeff Bridges is great as the alleged killer whose personality constantly keeps you guessing—did he do it, or did he not? Peter Coyote is instantly (yet intentionally, mind you) unlikeable as the unethical DA who always thinks he’s right, and also holds a grudge against the defendant (for publishing some unfair stories about him) and defense attorney. Also terrific is Robert Loggia as Sam Ransom, Teddy’s investigative friend who does some digging into the case, but not without frank skepticism.

“Jagged Edge” has so many twists and turns, and it succeeded as a courtroom drama and as a genuinely scary thriller. Admittedly, I didn’t correctly guess the ending, and I was unnerved by what I going to discover. If there’s one thing about the film that kind of disappointed me, it’s that maybe I didn’t need the final shot of the film, because it already has you guessing at each part and where it was going to head; I just thought maybe they could’ve ended it ambiguously and kept us guessing as to whether Jack was innocent or guilty. But to be honest…it still shocked me.

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