Perhaps because the director has a law degree from Cambridge, Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 film My Cousin Vinny is widely praised for its realistic depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy.
Joe Pesci plays an inexperienced Brooklyn personal injury lawyer trying to save his cousin from a murder charge. But instead of relying on surprise witnesses and other unlikely dramatic gambits, “[t]he movie is close to reality even in its details,” writes plaintiff’s attorney Max Kennerly. “Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen — and often does happen — at trial.”
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner calls the film “particularly rich in practice tips: how a criminal defense lawyer must stand his ground against a hostile judge, even at the cost of exasperating the judge, because the lawyer’s primary audience is the jury, not the judge; how cross-examination on peripheral matters can sow serious doubts about a witness’s credibility; how props can be used effectively in cross-examination (the tape measure that demolishes one of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses); how to voir dire, examine, and cross-examine expert witnesses; the importance of the Brady doctrine … how to dress for a trial; contrasting methods of conducting a jury trial; and more.”
“You can use the movie to discuss criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy,” writes John Marshall Law School professor Alberto Bernabe. And “[a]lthough Vinny is certainly no role model when it comes to knowledge of the law, legal analysis and ethical behavior, law students could learn from him as to how to use legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice.”
Lynn suggested that lawyers like the film because “there aren’t any bad guys”; the judge, prosecutor, and defense are all simply seeking justice.
In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film third on its list of the “25 Greatest Legal Movies,” and in 2010 it ranked Vincent Gambini twelfth among “The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch).”