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The Rainmaker

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Rainmaker

Starring: Matt Damon, Danny DeVito
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 133 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Mary Kay Place, Dean Stockwell, Teresa Wright, Virginia Madsen, Mickey Rourke, Andrew Shue

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"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 unequivocal letter.

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 Glover.

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

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