This movie is not a movie that makes you think. It's not arty, there
are no Corleones, there's really no issues to ponder long after the
credits have stopped rolling. Instead it's a human drama that uses a
courtroom battle as its backbone, but the entire body is the
honestly-told if ultimately remarkable of a greenhorn lawyer trying to
make a life for himself after law school. Like the more recent "Garden
State" the movie is far more interesting than one would initially
I recently read the Grisham novel that the screenplay was adapted from and was impressed by the memorable cast of the characters. The corrupt-and-loving-it Prince and Bruiser, Deck Shiflett as the skeezy "paralawyer" who scrapes out a living with an amusing lack of self-consciousness, the bitter-tempered first judge and his pioneering, biased black successor, the politely patronizing and puffed-up Legal Titan Leo Drummond, Cliff and his straight-from-Deliverance hillbilly family, lonely and slightly bossy Miss Birdie, chain-smoking Dot and her addled husband, all of them set a standard for memorable but believable characters.
Yet the movie is itself a cut or two above the original material. The extended cast does a hands-down fantastic job of bringing each character to life. First billing has to go to Danny Devito for transforming Deck from Rudy's unscrupulous and ugly sidekick in the novel, into a more take-charge and casually hilarious partner. Just take a look at the scene where he leads Rudy into the hospital or when he's giving out his card to the kids in Dot's neighborhood. But that's just one of about twenty stellar acting jobs. The extended cast includes Danny Glover, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, Mickey Rourke (yes!), Virginia Madsen, and a handful of other talented but lesser-known actors who show their absolute best through the skillful lens of Coppola.
Besides the stellar job by the cast, the story is tweaked to absolute perfection. Whether it's the Coppola magic or an excellent adaptation and editing job, I see a transformation similar to his triumph with "The Godfather": an absorbing but complex and sometimes rambling story is condensed into its absolute essence. Not a single shot is out of place.
Something else struck me about this adaptation -- it reminds me of Peter Jackson's LOTR in the way comic moments are used to balance out the weightiness of the main plot. For example: in LOTR Merry and Pippin set off Gandalf's dragon fireworks, or in the second movie Gimli can't see over the parapet towards the advancing Uruk-hai, or in the third movie Sam and Gollum have their argument over the proper preparation of rabbits and 'taters and Gandalf instructs Pippin to keep his big mouth shut before they enter the hall of Minas Tirith. Likewise "The Rainmaker" has its little touches of humor as well, from the sardonic lawyer jokes in Rudy's voice-over, to the scene where Deck fake-helpfully hands over Drummond's lost shoe after he's been assaulted by an angry juror, to Rudy's red-faced apology to the car accident victim in traction whom he has accidentally jostled, to Madsen's laconic yet particularly devoted husband Bert. ("Guess who DIED last night?" "...Do you ever sleep?") There is anxiety during Kelly's return to her house, the suspense of the bug showdown, the pathos of Rudy's final speech: all these combine with the lighter moments to balance each other like a film version of Pickapeppa sauce.
Who could have ever guessed that a Grisham novel could be so perfectly adapted to the screen?! Just try watching the "Pelican Brief" afterward for comparison. My hat is off to Coppola, his cast, and everyone else who contributed to this understated masterwork.
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Rudy Baylor (Damon) is a graduate of the University of Memphis Law School. Unlike most of his fellow grads, he has no high-paying job lined up and is forced to apply for part-time positions while serving drinks at a Memphis bar.Desperate for a job, he reluctantly is introduced to J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), a ruthless but successful ambulance-chasing lawyer, who makes him an associate. To earn his fee, Rudy is required to hunt for potential clients at a local hospital. He meets Deck Shifflet (DeVito), a less-than-ethical former insurance assessor, now a paralegal who has failed the bar exam six times. However, Deck is resourceful in gathering information and practically an expert on insurance lawsuits.Rudy has just one case, one of insurance bad faith. It could be worth several million dollars in damages, but his personal life is falling to pieces and he is about to declare himself bankrupt. When his employer is raided by the police and the FBI, he and Deck set up a practice themselves. They file suit on behalf of a middle-aged couple, Dot and Buddy Black, whose 22-year-old son Donny Ray is dying of leukemia, but could have been saved with a bone marrow transplant, denied by their insurance carrier Great Benefit.Rudy passes the Tennessee bar exam but has never argued a case before a judge and jury. Now he finds himself up against a group of experienced and devious lawyers from a large firm, headed by Leo F. Drummond (Voight), a showman attorney who uses unscrupulous tactics to win his cases.The original judge assigned the case, Harvey Hale, is set to dismiss it because he sees it as one of many so-called "lottery" cases that slow down the judicial process. But a far more sympathetic judge, Tyrone Kipler (Glover), takes over when Hale suffers a fatal heart attack in his swimming pool. Kipler, a former civil rights attorney, immediately denies the insurance company's petition for dismissal.While preparing his case, Rudy seeks new clients and meets pretty Kelly Riker (Danes), a battered wife whose husband Cliff's savage beatings have put her in the hospital. He persuades Kelly to file for divorce, but this leads to a confrontation with Rudy that results in the abusive husband's death. To keep Rudy from being implicated, Kelly tells the police she was alone and killed her husband in self-defense. The district attorney declines to prosecute her.Donny Ray dies, but not before giving a video deposition in the front yard of his home. The case goes to trial, where Drummond preys on Rudy's inexperience. He gets the vital testimony of Rudy's key witness, Jackie Lemanczyk, stricken from the record. Nevertheless, thanks to Rudy's single-minded determination and skillful cross-examination of Great Benefit's unctuous president, Wilfred Keeley, the jury finds for the plaintiff.It is a great triumph for Rudy and Deck, at least until the insurance company quickly declares itself bankrupt, thus allowing it to avoid paying fifty million dollars in punitive damages. There is no payout for the grieving parents and no fee for Rudy.Deciding that this triumph will create unrealistic expectations for future clients, Rudy decides to abandon his new practice after only one case to teach law with a focus on ethical behaviour instead. Furthermore, he leaves town with Kelly, out of a desire to remain low profile and protect Kelly from any possible retribution from Cliff's vengeful relatives.
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December 30, 2015 at 07:05 AM