On the Basis of Sex (2018)

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

2018 | PG-13

Drama | History

Young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg teams with her husband Marty to bring a groundbreaking case before the U.S. Court of Appeals and overturn a century of gender discrimination.

Overall Rating

6 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • On The Basis Of Sex neutralises gender discrimination through sharp legal battles. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the now Supreme Court Justice, is an advocate for the advancement of women's rights and gender equality. Her refusal to step down and her stubborn personality is one that has made her notorious amongst American politics, making her one of the most influential figures within the nation's justice system. Here we are with a film that is cruelly overlooked. A biographical legal drama that manages to both educate and dramatise an important stepping stone in the history of equal rights. After all, it's her story that made history. Ruth, with the assistance of her devoted tax crunching husband, independently takes on a case that unfairly limits her male subject's tax deduction to "a woman, widower or divorcée". She identifies a glaring gap in inequality and decides to challenge the many laws of constitution to force a change.

    Ruth is a powerfully inclined individual, and director Leder ensures this is her story. Her motivation into desiring a world that treats herself the same as her male counterparts is fully realised through a perfect use of a narrative time shift. The biopic starts in her early years, when she is denied the ability to finish her law degree in a different university and is unable to find a position within any law firm. All of this because she is a woman. The stereotyping and repression of opportunities for females within the mid 20th-Century is, well, unfair. Stiepleman's nuanced screenplay knows this, and fully utilised Ruth's lawful yet unfair treatment in order to motivate her when she takes on the main case. It's frequently referred that protests are suitable for making temporary changes, but if you want to change society then the law itself needs to be challenged. A thought-provoking theme, and one that holds considerable power.

    Ruth found that if a man could be unfairly discriminated on the basis of sex, then so could women. She cleverly composed a plan in which a panel of male judges were more likely to identify with a male appellant. Subtle yet ingenious psychological moves making Ruth a formidable lawyer. However Leder doesn't just let her take all the credit. Her close companionship with her cancer-stricken husband and aspiring daughter meant that the case turned into a family endeavour, symbolising the need for unity. Everyone chipped in, not just to win the case, but to change history. Absolutely compelling from start to finish, even if the first act was not as persuasive as its concluding courtroom drama. To balance its heavy subject matter with a light narrative tone is a difficult task, but Leder does so effortlessly. It allows this sense of approachability, educating viewers who are not familiar with Ginsburg's prominent work whilst also providing humorous moments amidst society-changing battles.

    It must be said that none of the above would've worked if it was not for Jones' exceptional performance. Nuanced, controlled and quite simply underrated. Hammer's excellent supporting performance also elevated her talent. More screen time for Reynor, particularly during the Court of Appeals, would have been nice to showcase his rising talent. A few plot details, especially Martin's encounter with cancer, were underdeveloped and did not provide much power to story. However these are small criticisms to what is a tantalising biographical drama.

    I cannot understate how important this film is, whether you are familiar with Ginsburg's work or not. We have come leaps and bounds as a society over the past 100 years, this film clearly tells us that. And its inspirational leading individual shows that we shouldn't stop now. We can make the change.