Alan Dershowitz is a lawyer about whom many have complicated feelings. Throughout his career, he has defended a number of clients who were considered to be pariahs in society and few lawyers would have wanted to be associated with in any way. Three decades after being portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Reversal of Fortune by actor Ron Silver, Dershowitz gained more notoriety for defending President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. The documentary The Trials of Alan Dershowitz offers a complete and fascinating portrait of the exceptional lawyer who has few regrets about the choices he has made over the course of more than half a century of practicing law.
Dershowitz speaks directly to the camera for a good portion of this thorough profile, explaining his early beginnings and how he came to be involved in some of the most prominent cases in recent memory. His Jewish upbringing was formative in his understanding of the law and his ability to grasp its complexities, and how few professional opportunities were open to him when he graduated from law school due to anti-Semitism. More than anything, he conveys a true enthusiasm for the law and the fact that he believes everyone is entitled to a defense.
That’s the crux of who Dershowitz is, as relayed by interviews with the man himself and those who know him, whether or not they find his behavior and actions responsible. Dershowitz expresses that, in his opinion, the job of the defense is not to achieve justice but instead to represent his client, whereas the justice system is meant to ensure a proper result. He was no fan of Richard Nixon’s politics and has similar feelings about Trump, but he has strong feelings about the idea of impeaching a president, who he believes is entitled to a defense just like anyone else.
Dershowitz’s unapologetic nature may rub some people the wrong way, but it’s something that’s he stuck to throughout his life. What this documentary concludes, more than anything, is that he is consistent, retaining the same values and principles no matter who his client may be. He’s well aware that those who are perceived to be guilty are less likely to receive an adequate defense, and in most cases believes that he’s the right man for the job. Being associated with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein has done him few favors, and in the case of Epstein, even got him in hot water as he was accused of impropriety that he vehemently denies.
The unfettered access to Dershowitz is a truly worthwhile and rewarding endeavor, and he speaks freely and openly, never holding anything back. It’s clear that, while he remains steadfast in his opinions about what cases he’s taken, he finds it deeply troubling that there are those who don’t understand him. His support of Israel’s right to exist, which the film covers towards its end, is one such instance, where he notes that his regular criticism of governmental policies is typically ignored by those who consider him a staunch defender of the country’s every move.
Speaking to those who don’t revere Dershowitz and instead argue that his incredible influence should prompt him to take moral positions rather than purely legal ones adds dimensions to this profile that, dispiriting as they surely are to its subject, are a perfect example of how he might attest that every side of an issue deserves to be examined and presented. This film is highly informative and entirely interesting, shining a light on a man whose frequent courting of controversy is simply a biproduct of his deeply held sense of the law and why it matters.
The Trials of Alan Dershowitz is screening online at DOC NYC through November 26th.