Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Rainmaker

An enjoyable adaptation of John Grisham’s novel THE RAINMAKER, this crackling legal thriller boasts an excellent supporting cast, assured direction by THE GODFATHER’s Francis Ford Coppola, and a nice sense of humor. Coppola also wrote the screenplay and packs a lot of twists and turns into its 135-minute running time by ditching a few minor characters and subplots.

Matt Damon, who filmed this just before GOOD WILL HUNTING was released, plays young attorney Rudy Baylor as a moral man—one who knows all the lawyer jokes and wants to clear the profession’s good name—and one who’s a little nervous to be playing with the big boys, even though they aren’t as big as he thinks they are.

Rudy’s first job out of law school is with a shady Memphis law firm owned by Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke), who’s under indictment on racketeering charges. Bruiser teams him with the middle-aged Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito in the film’s most enjoyable performance), a slick talker who hasn’t passed the bar exam after six tries, but doesn’t let that stop him from chasing ambulances.

Rudy’s case is a lawsuit against an insurance company on behalf of a decent but poor family whose son is dying of leukemia, but whose life may have been saved if the company had made good his claim. Damon and DeVito are likable enough to root for to begin with, but Coppola gives the duo a strong villain to compete with: Jon Voight (COMING HOME) in a delightful turn as Leo Drummond, a slick lawyer defending the insurance company—a guy who not only swims with sharks, but loves the challenge and the danger of it.

Claire Danes (HOMELAND) co-stars as a sweet teenager being abused by her softball-player husband. She and Damon make a nice couple, but this violent subplot adds a tinge of ugliness to what is otherwise a slick old-fashioned courtroom drama. It’s fun to spot the familiar faces ham it up in support: Dean Stockwell, Danny Glover, Virginia Madsen, Mary Kay Place, Red West, Teresa Wright, Randy Travis, Sonny Shroyer, and Roy Scheider.

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