Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery), a liberal Harvard professor opposed to capital punishment, is persuaded to go to Florida to investigate the conviction of Bobby Earl Ferguson (Blair Underwood) for murder. Ferguson, a former Cornell University student, who was convicted of raping and murdering a young white girl named Joanie Shriver (Barbara Jean Kane). Armstrong must save him from being executed in the electric chair. Ferguson tells Armstrong that he was tortured by two police detectives to get a confession. As Armstrong digs deeper into the case, he discovers that Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne), the chief detective on the case, did indeed coerce Ferguson's confession.
The plot thickens when Ferguson tells the professor that the murder was actually committed by Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris), a serial killer awaiting execution, who later reveals the location of the weapon used to kill the girl. When Armstrong discovers the weapon, Brown tries to threaten him into abandoning the investigation. (It is revealed that the murdered girl was Brown's daughter's best friend.) Ferguson gets a re-trial and is freed from prison. Subsequently, the governor signs Sullivan's death warrant.
Armstrong receives a call from Sullivan, who says he has a final clue to share, but first wants Armstrong to visit his (Sullivan's) parents and tell them he said goodbye. Armstrong is shocked to find their butchered bodies. Back at the prison, Sullivan gloats that he and Ferguson struck a deal: Ferguson would kill Sullivan's parents in exchange for freedom, while Sullivan would claim responsibility for the girl's murder, which Ferguson did in fact commit. Armstrong asks why he was needed for their scheme, and Sullivan replies that was "Bobby Earl's call." Armstrong, in his anger at being played, lies to Sullivan and tells him his parents were alive and that they "forgive him." Sullivan becomes enraged. He resists the guards taking him to the electric chair, where he is executed.
Armstrong and Brown go after Ferguson, whose motive for everything turns out to be a desire for revenge on Armstrong's wife (Kate Capshaw); she was the prosecutor against him in a previous rape trial which, while thrown out of court on a technicality, resulted in him being brutalized and castrated in jail, as well as being kicked out of Cornell, robbing him of any chance of a future. Ferguson plans to murder Armstrong's wife and daughter (Scarlett Johansson) and then disappear. Armstrong and Brown join forces to kill Ferguson and save Armstrong's family.Barbara Jean Kane – Joanie Shriver
Sean Connery – Paul Armstrong
Laurence Fishburne – Detective Tanny Brown
Kate Capshaw – Laurie Prentiss Armstrong
Blair Underwood – Bobby Earl Ferguson
Ed Harris – Blair Sullivan
Christopher Murray – Detective T. J. Wilcox
Ruby Dee – Evangeline
Scarlett Johansson – Katie Armstrong
Daniel J. Travanti – Warden
Ned Beatty – McNair
Kevin McCarthy – Phil Prentiss
Sean Connery turned down the role for King Edward I for the film Braveheart so in order he can do this film. Will Smith was in talk to take on the role of Bobby Earl Ferguson. Both Connery and director Arne Glimcher are close friends, & Glimcher took on directing duties in favor for Sean so they can both work on the film together.
Principal photography began on May 16, 1994. Filming took place in and around the state of Florida. Locations includes Lee County, Collier County, Fort Myers, Miami Beach and Gainesville. Filming also includes Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Production wrapped on August 2, 1994. This film also marks the final theatrical film for Hope Lange.
Unlike Glimcher's previous film, The Mambo Kings, Just Cause received mostly negative reviews, with a "Rotten" 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews and an average score of 6.4 on The Internet Movie Database.
Just Cause was released on February 17, 1995 in 2,052 theatres. It opened at #2 at the box office grossing $10.6 million in its opening weekend. It remained at #2 for its second week, grossing $6.6 million. After 5 weeks in theatres, the film went on to gross $36.8 million, making it a moderate success.