“Anatomy of a Fall” revives courtroom drama genre

Anatomy of a Fall (Sandra Hüller, Samuel Theis, Milo Machado Graner) — Some of my favorite movies of all time are courtroom dramas: 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Presumed Innocent, A Time to Kill, A Few Good Men, The Caine Mutiny.

Add Anatomy of a Fall to the list. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, Anatomy of a Fall is presented in French (60%) with subtitles but contains quite a bit of English.

Set near Grenoble, a couple lives with their sight-challenged son high up in the Alps. When the film opens, the son, Daniel, takes the family dog out for a walk (or the other way around) shortly after the mother, Sandra, cuts short an interview about her new book.  When the son returns home, his father (who we hadn’t met yet) is lying dead and bloodied in the snow.

Like all murder mysteries, questions abound. With only five characters (mom, dad, son, interviewer, and dog) to choose from, we become participants in the drama. The mother, richly drawn and played by Oscar nominee Sandra Hüller, is ultimately arrested and tried. The father, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is seen only in flashbacks. Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), whose character centers the film, is called as a witness.

Anatomy of a Fall’s premise or script isn’t unique. It feels part Agatha Christie and part John Grisham. But it is reminiscent of an era when good writing, great acting, and exceptional pacing made courtroom dramas riveting and engrossing.

Director Justine Triet is a somewhat eccentric artist with a reputation as plain-spoken and feminist, which came into play when she alienated some on the French Oscar Committee when accepting the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2023. They chose a different film as their official entry for this year’s Oscar Foreign Language Film, thus setting up the embarrassment of Anatomy being nominated for Best Picture but not Best Foreign Language Film (clearing the field for an almost certain win for The Zone of Interest).

Triet, however, scored an Oscar nod for Best Director, perhaps grabbing the nomination expected to go to Greta Gerwig for “Barbie.” Her deft touch keeps Anatomy well-paced, taut, and subtly subversive. Its script, which she co-wrote, is tight and lyrical. The characters are well drawn and meanderingly exposed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film even at two-and-a-half hours. Currently available for rent ($6.99) on a couple streaming services, it is likely to come to theaters before the Academy Awards in March. Make sure you see it.

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