There a few things to like about it as a movie but its a weak piece of social commentary that essentially takes aim at the adversarial process in criminal court.
The New York Times review from 1979, by Vincent Canby, sums it up as follows:
With the exception of two old men, one of whom is senile, all of the characters in " . . . and Justice for All" have such low thresholds of emotional distress that I wouldn't trust one of them to see "The Sound of Music" unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. They dress sloppily. They talk dirty. Yet they are of an innocence that boggles the mind and sinks the movie.And, concerning Al Pacino's character's distaste for representing someone guilty, Canby rightly observes that the system requires just that:
If you follow what seems to be the film's feeble point to its logical end, it is that our judicial system is rotten not only because of the people who administer it, but also because it provides safeguards for the accused. The next step, one should think, is a nice, predictable law-and-order state.(I don't often see people get that issue right, as Canby did. You have to provide a defense for everyone, whether or not they appear guilty or innocent, because there is no way to determine guilt or innocence until you provide that defense. And because the question of culpability is often a hard call, we err on the side of acquitting the guilty because we have far greater abhorrence for the possibility that the innocent might be convicted.)
The only reason why I am bothering to comment about this imperfect film is that it made me blush. You see, Al Pacino's character is a lawyer in his thirties. I am a lawyer in my thirties. Al Pacino runs around an old criminal courthouse in Baltimore. I run around an old criminal courthouse in New Orleans. Al Pacino makes pompous legal arguments to indifferent judges. I make pompous legal arguments to indifferent judges.
But here's the kicker, Al Pacino drives around town in a blue/green 1973 BMW 2002. And I drive like a maniac in a blue/green 1973 BMW 2002.
I would prefer to think of myself as Pacino's Frank Serpico, or his Michael Corleone, but instead my doppelganger is Pacino's Arthur Kirkland. I'll live.
If you are interested, Pacino's slightly famous (and ridiculous) "You're out of order" speech from And Justice for All . . . is on You Tube. It denigrates the Sixth Amendment and Blackstone's maxim that its better for ten guilty men to walk free than one innocent man to languish in prison but it's fun to watch and a classic Al Pacino-yelling scene.
***The photo of the BMW 2002 is the same year, color, and model as mine but its in far better shape (and I am sure has much less character).