What are the greatest movies about the Constitution? This list of movies on Amendments pairs a film clip with each article of our Bill of Rights, the cornerstone of our American understanding of freedom, and then all the other amendments to our Constitution over the years. Mainly, these films will highlight the dire importance of these rights and restrictions, but sometimes they will simply relate to the discussion in a tangential way, because a lot of these amendments are kind of odd and obscure.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This is, in truth, one of the hardest choices on the whole list. So many films have examined our First Amendment freedoms, from Network to The People vs. Larry Flynt to Brazil.
But I'm picking George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, a film that succinctly and powerfully gets at one of the central ideas behind our Founding Fathers' entire philosophy of governance.
In a free society, a source of power must always be counterbalanced. Checks, balances, that whole thing. It works not only in terms of elected officials. So if you're going to have a wealthy and dominant federal and state governments ruling over citizens, if you're going to have corporations exerting their influence on these governments, you must have a free press exposing all the secretive and corrupt stuff that they do.
In Clooney's film, Senator Joseph McCarthy starts out with undue influence over the American discourse. One of the only roadblocks (and there were more than a few) to his continued dominance was Edward R. Murrow and the microphone provided to him by CBS News. (The film likewise explores the difficulty of Murrow fighting the powerful while employed by a powerful media conglomerate himself.)
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
I'm choosing Commando as the film that represents probably the best case scenario for the Second Amendment. It was that or Red Dawn, and I gotta be honest, I prefer Commando.
Weapons expert and all-around badass John Matrix must save his kidnapped daughter from corrupt ex-Green Berets. To do so, he must use just about every single firearm known to man. Imagine a world in which Matrix couldn't legally gun down 20,000 or so badmen determined to rough up his little girl! Alyssa Milano would have been brutally killed and we'd never have gotten a chance to see her topless in "Embrace of the Vampire." I'm amazed the NRA doesn't make this point more often.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This one is a little tricky... if only because our modern military generally works out of hastily-constructed bases rather than quartering in the homes of civilians. Although, the government does take our money in the form of taxes and then uses it to build homes for soldiers without asking us, the "owners," what we think, violating the spirit of the law if not the actual letter.
Anyway, I'll broaden this a little and make the issue one of government intervention into the sanctity of a person's home. And I can't think of a better film on that topic than Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. An erratic vision of a harrowing future in which the government forces citizens to spy on one another as part of a nebulous never-ending drug and terror war, Linklater shows us how advanced surveillance technology enables the powerful to intrude upon our homes and violate our privacy unnoticed from afar. This is science-fiction that cuts dangerously close at times to present reality. It's not paranoia if they're really watching you.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In L.A. Confidential, director Curtis Hanson takes us inside the Los Angeles Police Department, where officers are urged to do anything possible to secure a conviction for those identified as "guilty." In the fight against organized crime, personified by real-life mob kingpin Mickey Cohen, Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) asks Lieutenant Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) and Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) to sidestep every single rule and code of conduct in order to win the day.
Like Chinatown, another film about behind-the-scenes corruption in 1940's Los Angeles, the city's sunny tourist-friendly facade hides an ugly reality. Such a paradise doesn't simply spring up from the ground. It is forged by crooked, devious men clawing at one another to secure for themselves a larger cut of the proceeds. Everything may look glamorous and shiny and new, but down the street from every movie premiere is a phony marijuana bust, behind every celebrated LAPD victory is a confession given under duress, and inside every corner office is a nervous little man who knows his cheap lies will eventually come back to haunt him.
A brilliant film that shows the Los Angeles police for what they are – a collection of thugs and bullies eager to trample all over your rights as a citizen with an occasional noble, well-meaning soul thrown in for good measure.