<i>Strange Justice</i>: Surreal Theater

This week, CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews Showtime movie Strange Justice, starring Regina Taylor, Delroy Lindo and Mandy Patinkin. It airs Sunday, Aug. 29.

Not long after two Wall Street Journal journalists, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, wrote a best-selling book called Strange Justice, about Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill and the Senate Judiciary Committee, everybody seemed to want to turn it into some sort of movie, but somehow nobody ever did.
John Leonard
Ted Turner passed, and likewise, Rupert Murdoch, and so at last, like other such homeless orphans as Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Adrian Lyne's rendition of Lolita, Strange Justice has ended up on Showtime cable.

Director Ernest Dickerson and screenwriter Jacob Epstein have turned a fine book into a superb docudrama. Although it probably won't change anybody's mind about who was telling the truth about Long Dong Silver, The Exorcist and pubic hair in a can of Coke, it certainly ought to give everyone pause, to the point of nausea, about a process in which truth itself was irrelevant.

Ferocious Thoughtfulnesscolor>

When I tell you that Regina Taylor plays Anita Hill, you will immediately assume that the movie's stacked in her favor. Taylor, from the NBC television series I'll Fly Away, embodies contemplative steel, ferocious thoughtfulness and hesitant heroism.

She has a built-in needle that invariably points true north on any moral compass. She wants to be anywhere else but Washington, talking to these senators who are willing themselves to believe the worst rumors about her, from psycho-slut to radical lesbianism.

But she is matched here dramatically by Delroy Lindo as Clarence Thomas, who has come too far and so close, to admit even to himself that maybe affirmative action had anything to do with his trajectory and who agrees not to express a public opinion on anything from natural law to Roe vs. Wade.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard

They are assisted in the surreal theater of the committee hearings by Mandy Patinkin as Kenneth Duberstein, the arm twister deployed by the Bush administration to win at any cost; by Paul Winfield as Thurgood Marshall, the soap opera-watching Supreme Court justice whose seat Thomas seeks to fill; and by Louis Gossett Jr., as a ciar-smoking Beltway Mr. Fix-It.

Fugitives on Spectral Moonscapecolor>

But even as everybody else is using them for different agendas, they are alone in their own raw memories and shifting accommodations. As in a play by Samuel Beckett, they seem to be fugitives from themselves on some spectral moonscape.

When Lindo's Thomas complains of a high-tech lynching, we actually see him strip himself of his shirt and hang himself with his tie. Sexual harassment is no longer the issue, nor even the white culture's sick fantasies about the black body.

At issue - and you can almost read its beastly sign on Patinkin's face, ambivalence that approximates self-loathing - is the power to dispose, the winning trick.

Not many senators will be happy about how they're portrayed on Showtime. Quite a few didn't even try for reelection.

Although the polls immediately after the hearings supported Thomas, the public temper since has swung towards Hill, or at least toward a disquieting sense of why so many women with careers to lose remain silent so long after they've learned the grubby truth about male entitlement - about how casually power corrupts, and how blithely the corrupt abuse it, and how strangely blind we are to justice as we maneuver for partisan position, as we grab ourselves a locker-room edge.

Written by John Leonard