A slice of life drama about the highs and lows experienced by a first-year law student at the prestigious Harvard Law School, THE PAPER CHASE is well made and acted, but is more concerned with character than plot and at times feels unfocused.
The willful, yet inexperienced Hart (Timothy Bottoms) goes toe to toe with the revered Professor Kinsgfield (John Houseman) who is a legend at the school. Given his dictatorial manner, it’s easy to see why he intimidates the students when it comes to teaching law.
Not to be undone by his fears, Hart hatches an elaborate chess match with his teacher, planning a strategy that will ease him into Kingsfield’s good graces over the course of the semester.
Everything appears to be going as planned until he falls for the attractive and enigmatic Susan (Lindsay Wagner). She is amused by Hart’s desires to win over Kingsfield as she has seen this over and over again given that she is the star teacher’s daughter.
As the semester comes to a close, Hart comes to some realizations about who he is and ultimately the kind of person he wants to be.
Based on the novel by Jay Osborn Jr., the film adaptation has the cinema verité style that defined the early 1970’s. It’s raw and imprecise choosing to linger where most films would cut. This is not necessarily a criticism, it’s just that be prepared that THE PAPER CHASE is more about the journey than the destination.
When the film was released it became a surprise success and would later spawn a successful TV series retaining Houseman as Kingsfield.
Certainly a quality film, it’s hard not to recommend it for all the reasons why it works, just know that THE PAPER CHASE is much more of a leisurely walk than what the title might suggest.