Director: Mimi Leder
Genre: Biography, Drama
Cast: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates
Release Date: December 25, 2018
We seem to be going through a collective phase of near-worship of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s not hard to see why. We are suddenly aware of how important she is to our nation’s sense of stability and confidence in our system of law and order. We are suddenly aware of how much we need her, and that is bringing us to study her life and follow her every move. RBG, the well-crafted documentary released earlier this year, did very well at the box office for a documentary, earning more than 17 million dollars. That film spanned her life from a young schoolgirl all the way to the Supreme Court. This film, however, focuses on two key areas of her life, which can be seen as a foundation for the direction her life would take.
On the Basis of Sex focuses on Justice Ginsburg’s (flawlessly portrayed by Felicity Jones) relationship with her husband, the late tax attorney Martin Ginsburg (portrayed by Armie Hammer in a very strong supporting role), and her role (along with her husband) in tackling the matter of a tax law that allowed a woman to deduct expenses as a caregiver, but would not allow a man to do the same. Ruth (called Keke throughout the film; the origin of this nickname is never explained) decides to take on this case and right this wrong. We see the relationship she establishes with her client, Mr. Charles Moritz, and how frustrating the process becomes as the face the resistance of a justice system that doesn’t seem to realize its near-sightedness. She argues the case in a passionate scene towards the end of the film in a raw display of emotion and courage.
We witness her travails through law school, when her second-year student husband becomes ill and she decides to take his classes as well as her own to help him graduate on time. We see how she graduates from law school in first place, but no law firm will hire her because she is a woman. We also witness how her daughter Jane becomes inspired by her mother’s passion and tireless pursuit of justice and decides to become a lawyer herself.
Kathy Bates and Justin Theroux have strong roles as pioneering feminist attorney Dorothy Kenyon and legal director of the ACLU, Mel Wulf, respectively. This film was written by Daniel Stiepleman, Justice Ginsburg’s nephew. His respect for his aunt truly shines through in this film.
As someone who works in the legal field, I found this film fascinating to watch and it gave me much to think about in terms of how I do my job and how I approach the law in my daily life. I highly recommend it.