"How do you know when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving."
Welcome back to John Grisham's world, where the lawyers are
slimeballs, and the businessmen are crooks. (The movie's modest title
is JOHN GRISHAM'S THE RAINMAKER.) In Grisham novels, there is always
one idealistic lawyer fighting the system. Here we get two, sort of.
One, Deck Shiffler, played hilariously by Danny DeVito, has flunked the
bar exam six times already. Although not yet, or maybe ever, a real
lawyer, he still chases ambulances with the best of them but has a
heart of gold nevertheless.
Matt Damon gives a lethargic performance as the crusading, but
broke lawyer named Rudy Baylor. (Grisham, himself a non-practicing
lawyer, always dichotomizes the legal profession into a large group of
rich, evil lawyers and a smaller cadre of poor, honest ones.) One
could argue that Damon's shallow acting in the movie reflects his
character's legal abilities, but if Damon had not had such a sterling
supporting cast, his acting would have almost destroyed the movie.
Since screenwriter and director Francis Coppola makes extensive
use of voice-over by Damon, we get to hear large doses of his sad
voice. Elmer Bernstein has loud violin's wailing and the flutes
sobbing during these narrations to remind you how noble our young
lawyer is. It is easy to listen to the pretentious soundtrack and
convince yourself that Rudy must be some modern-day Gandhi.
Evicted from his apartment, Rudy goes to work for a legal low-life
who goes by the charming moniker of Bruiser Stone. With jeweled cuff
links and small, dark glasses, Mickey Rourke is almost unrecognizable
as a gravel voiced Bruiser. Bruiser's having a bit of a disagreement
with the Feds over a money laundering scheme but tries to take a little
time to mentor Rudy, his young protege, in the art of making a fast
buck by signing up as many clients as possible.
Rudy only has three clients. One is a battered wife, played
touchingly by Claire Danes. Rudy, showing good taste if foolhardiness,
falls in love with this client and goes way beyond all legal ethics.
This, of course, is okay since it is for a good cause.
Another client is a rich widow, who actually isn't rich at all.
She wants him to rewrite her will so she can cut out all of her
good-for-nothing kids and give her fortune instead to a television
preacher whose jet needs replacement.
It is the other case that gets the show in gear. Mary Kay Place
plays a poor woman, Dot Black, with a son dying of leukemia. Although
he could have been saved by a bone marrow transplant, Great Benefit
Life has been denying her claims. In the company's last letter one of
its Vice Presidents wrote her, "We now deny it for the eighth and final
time. You must be stupid, stupid, stupid!" Needless to say, Rudy and
Deck jump for joy at receiving such valuable evidence as this
As the Great Benefit's lead attorney, Jon Voight gives one of his
best performances in a long time as Leo F. Drummond, the lawyer with
tasseled Guccis and a team of expensive backup men.
After a slow start the movie takes off dramatically once it gets
to the courtroom. Although the case is initially assigned to one of
Drummond's buddies, a judge played by Dean Stockwell, it gets switched
to a new judge named Tyrone Kipler. An ex-civil rights attorney, Judge
Kipler is played with just the right level of restrained humor by Danny
Deck accurately characterizes their adversary. "Great Benefit is
like a bad slot machine," he claims. "It never pays off." But with
the appointment of Judge Kipler, Deck is jubilant. "You remember what
a Rainmaker is, kid?" Deck asks Rudy. "The bucks are going to start
falling from the sky." And when their client dies as everyone knows he
will, Deck can barely contain his euphoria. "Now, it's a wrongful
death suit -- Gazillions!" he effuses.
By the end JOHN GRISHAM'S THE RAINMAKER becomes a thoroughly
delightful piece of entertainment. You'll probably guess most of the
twists in the story, but you'll have fun watching them anyway.
Voight's reptilian performance alone is worth the price of admission.
JOHN GRISHAM'S THE RAINMAKER runs too long at 2:14. It is rated
PG-13 for violence and some profanity. The movie would be fine for
kids around eleven and up.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes