A Murder of Crows

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A 1998 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Berenger, Eric Stoltz, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Mark Pellegrino. It opens as the main character, Lawson Russell (Gooding), is taken to jail, acting as Narrator to explain How We Got Here. It began on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, when Lawson is wrestling with a new-found sense of conscience. Unbeknownst to him at the time, a man dressed as Satan picked the lock and slipped into his office, intending to kill him. Lawson cannot reconcile his duty as a defense attorney with the knowledge that his client, Thurman Parks III (Stoltz), the wealthy son of a former mayor of New Orleans, is guilty of murder after he gloats about having told his victim he would get off. The man has a gun on Lawson as he calls the judge and asks to be withdrawn from the case, which upsets His Honor. Seeing him doing this, the intrudes exits and leaves Lawson alive. The next morning, the judge rejects Lawson's request to be withdrawn, and Lawson turns on his own client, attacking him verbally, which causes the case to be declared a mistrial.

Lawson is disbarred, and while his friend Elizabeth Pope (Jean-Baptiste) praises his action on moral grounds, he goes off to Florida, working as a fishing guide. There he meets an old Englishman named Christopher Marlowe who retired there and greatly dislikes lawyers. He shows Lawson a manuscript of his called A Murder of Crows (from a group of crows being called a murder), about a Serial Killer who targets what he sees as morally corrupt defense lawyers. Lawson, who has been struggling to write a nover himself without success, thinks its brilliant. When Marlowe suddenly dies from a heart attack, he succumbs to temptation and passes off the work as his own. It quickly becomes an overnight success, climbing onto the bestsellers list despite criticism from the legal profession. One book signed by Lawson is sent out to a New Orleans detective, Cliffard Dubose (Berenger) who quickly recognizes a shocking fact-the murders in the book actually happened.

Lawson is arrested and interrogated. Detective Dubose was on the first case, and thinks Lawson sent him the book because he could understand. After all, he reasons, what's the point of committing the perfect murder if nobody knows about it? The book contained not only real murders, but specific details of the crimes which only the killer could know. Lawson denies everything of course and Pope manages to get him released for cooperation. He confesses to her what he did, plagiarizing the book, but Pope is doubtful. Even worse, he destroyed the original manuscript to erase any evidence for his plagiarism, while the only person able to confirm he did not write it was the dead man he took it from. More evidence (photos of the murder victims taken by the killer) is found planted in Lawson's home, causing him to flee the police while, in classic Hitchcockean style, searching for the real killer.

Tropes used in A Murder of Crows include:
  • An Aesop: Defense attorneys are bad, especially if they get obviously guilty men off (although they are duty bound to give their client the best possible legal representation). Also, do not plagiarize-it can get you set up as a murderer.
  • Clear My Name: Lawson embarks on a quest to do this, while simultaneously fleeing the police.
  • Frame-Up: Lawson experiences one. [[spoiler: The book was used to test Lawson, since his attempting to withdraw from the case made the killer reevaluate him. So he disguised himself as an old Englishman named Christopher Marlowe, who shows him the book and then apparently dies, allowing Lawson to pass it off as his own. Christopher Marlowe, as Lawson finds out, was a famous English writer well known for his adapting the Medieval legend of Faust into a play, in which the main character makes a pact with the Devil (which the killer dressed as in the beginning when he went to kill Lawson). In another disguise, he called himself Goethe, after the German philosopher and writer who also adapted Faust. When Lawson passed the book off as his own, it made him seem to be the killer himself, and have the motive too, as a disbarred lawyer disgusted with the legal profession. The photos planted in his house clinch the frame up]].
  • Fridge Logic: Couldn't Lawson have proven his innocence by alibing himself on at least some of the crimes and telling them he plagiarized the book? He can't have been unaccounted for when they all took place, could he?
  • Meaningful Name: Lawson, a defense attorney (before he was disbarred) and son of a judge.
  • Serial Killer: Professor Arthur Corvus, whose killings Lawson is suspected of committing due to a Frame-Up.
  • Start of Darkness: Corvus' occurs when the hit and run driver who killed his family got Off on a Technicality. He saw that the man was remorseful, but his lawyer simply delighted in winning (and his pay of course). So he became Corvus first victim, and other Amoral Attorneys followed.