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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Question: "How do you know when a lawyer is lying?" Answer: "When you see his lips moving." This gag, narrated soon after the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of John Grisham's book, sums up the novelist's attitude toward the legal profession. Grisham, who was easily able to give up his day job as an attorney when he turned to writing about the responsibility, is cynical almost to the point of hopelessness. What saves him from despair is his conviction that somewhere out there you can find professionals of integrity who do not lie each time they move their lips and juries who are justifiably incensed enough to mete out justice.

In the hands of director Coppola, "The Rainmaker," given the appropriate time of two hours and fifteen minutes, must still come up short on some of the story's subplots, most expressly in the case of an elderly woman who pretends to have a small fortune put away which, she insists, will go to her children only if they treat her right in her declining years. But Coppola more than makes up for this omission by playing up the humor in what is at base a tale of pathos involving a twenty-two-year old man who is dying of leukemia, a kid who could have been saved if his medical insurance policy approved his family's claim. "The Rainmaker" features a stellar cast with Danny De Vito providing most of the yocks, young and relatively unknown Matt Damon eliciting audience cheers and good will, and Jon Voight as the big, bad, corporate attorney absolutely full of himself as he brings his enormous skills and experience to bear against a poor Memphis woman whose son in slipping into death.

To Coppola's credit this tale, which could have been hammered home with all the hysteria of a mega- melodrama, is played out low-key almost as though the trial scenes were taking place as cinema verite. The story is peppered throughout with Michael Herr's narration of the budding views of the twenty-four-year-old Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), who has just graduated from law school and is looking for his first job. Landing a position with a shady firm of ambulance chasers bossed by "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), he learns quickly that he needs not chase ambulances unless he has a penchant for eating. Opening scenes feature Danny DeVito in scenes that could have come out of "Critical Care," as Deck Schifflet (DeVito) and his new associate Rudy hustle about a local Memphis hospital looking for accident cases to take on.

While the principal action involves the lawsuit by Rudy Baylor's sprouting legal office against an insurance company which has a policy of refusing virtually all claims, there is an ample diversity of smaller accounts to keep the audience busy, the most melodramatic of which involves the young and pretty Kelly Riker (Claire Danes) who is regularly beaten up by her husband. Baylor's relationship with the hapless and mousy woman provides the right romantic touch and is treated with subtlety and good taste.

Jon Voight is particularly dependable as the big-shot lawyer who tries every tactic to squelch the plaintiff's case of wrongful death while Mickey Rourke, in a solid, over-the-top performance, demonstrates the sleaze of an attorney whose fumbling little law firm is just a front for mob activity. Matt Damon operates in a role that could have gone to Matthew McCannaughey, Damon's youth and inexperience providing the proper feel of a young urban professional who will have a very tough time ever duplicating the success he enjoys in his very first test.

"The Rainmaker" is not noted particularly for saying anything new or for subverting audience prejudices against shyster lawyers and corporate evils, but what it says comes across in a crisp professional style under Coppola's direction and provides "The Rainmaker" with a solid story ably told.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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