Reversal of Fortune (1990) Poster

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8/10
Fascinating character studies
Dennis Littrell23 July 2003
Striking, if sometimes creepy, performances by Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons highlight this unevenly directed take on the Claus Von Bulow story of the degenerate rich adapted from the book by Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz, who loves being in the limelight almost as much as he loves the law, took on the task of saving Claus Von Bulow from prison for the attempted murder of his rich wife initially as a means of raising money to help him in his pro bono cases. The rather heavy-handed manner in which we are advised of this should not detract from Dershowitz's work. The irony is that as the case developed Dershowitz became persuaded that Claus was innocent.

Whether Dershowitz convinced himself of Von Bulow's innocence to assuage a possibly guilty conscience is a good question. Remember Dershowitz is the guy who said after the O.J. Simpson trial (he was one of Simpson's lawyers) that he didn't know whether Simpson was guilty or not. While that may be a good stance for a defense attorney, it is an insincere one for the public figure that Dershowitz has become.

Starring as Dershowitz is Ron Silver in an uneven performance that at times made me think of Gabe Kaplan doing a young and uncomedic Groucho Marx. I wonder if Dershowitz was entirely flattered.

Director Barbet Schroeder (Barfly 1987; Single White Female 1992) uses several points of view to tell the story, including a voice-over from Glenn Close's Sunny Von Bulow as she lies comatose, but also from recollections by Jeremy Irons' Claus Von Bulow. We see some scenes twice, colored by the differing points of view. This technique is entirely appropriate since what really happened is far from clear to this day. It is Claus Von Bulow's fortune that was reversed. Whether the first two juries or the third were right is something Schroeder leaves for the audience to determine.

But make no mistake about it: the heart of the movie is Jeremy Irons' Oscar-winning performance. His subtle artistry based on a deep conception (true to life or not) of the aristocratic and Germanic Claus allowed him to create a persona that is cold and aloft, yet somehow sympathetic. The contrast with Silver's Brooklyn-born hyper-energetic Dershowitz made for some good cinematic chemistry, although sometimes it came across like nice Jewish boy defends a vampire.

Glenn Close's flawless rendition of the idle, drug-befouled Sunny reminds us once again that she is a great actress. Unfortunately I don't think Schroeder spent as much time and energy as he should have with the people who played Dershowitz's law students. They seemed amateurish and unconvincing in just about every scene. And there were too many of them--law students, that is. Some distillation of intent, and more directorial guidance might have helped.

Nicholas Kazan's script has a number of good lines in it, not the least of which is this: Dershowitz: "You are a very strange man." Claus Von Bulow: "You have no idea." Also nice was Von Bulow's observation after they are seated in the restaurant and after the waiter has called him "Doctor" Von Bulow: "When I was married to Sunny, we never got this table. Now, two injections of insulin and I'm a doctor." Indeed it is partly Kazan's snappy, comedic and self-revelatory lines that humanize Claus Von Bulow's character and persuade us that he could very well be innocent.

While I like Dershowitz's self-serving style and his confidence, what I admire most about the man is his realistic conception of the defense attorney's role in our society and his idea of what makes a good lawyer; that is, a good lawyer is one who recognizes not only that every person deserves the best defense their resources allow, but that he himself deserves to defend those with the best resources.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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How Good Is This Film?..."You Have No Idea!"
peacham15 May 2002
Ever since the film premiered in 1990 Jeremy Iron's portrayal of the Aristocratic Claus Von Bulow has been etched in my memory. Iron's has without question created one of the most brilliantly layered historical characterizations to ever grace the screen.He gets to the heart of the haughty Von Bulow and brings us as close to liking the man as anyone ever could.His performance rightly won Him an Oscar for Best Actor. Just as engaging is Ron Silver's driven and hyper Alan Dershowitz. his performance of the great trail lawyer is facinatingly accurate. Having seen Dershowitz speak and meeting him afterwards it is very clear that Silver was able to capture even the smallest details of the man's movements,vocal inflections and dynamic rhetoric(Dersowitz himself claimed Silver used a tad too many hand gestures however!)

The supporting cast is equally strong. Glenn Close narrates the film as the comatose Sunny Von Bulow and appears in flashback during the events that lead to her coma. She captures Sunny's selfishness as well as her vulnerability. The great Uta Hagan appears as Sunny's maid and protector and give a performance worthy of her reputation.

Barbet Schroeder slickly directs the film,not as a linier plot but as a series of flashbacks,moments and current incidents. This is one of the few films that I cannot find a single flaw in.For direction,plot,characterization,writing..and Jeremy Iron's wonderful performance this film is an absolute 10!
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8/10
A delightful movie. Bravo!
cdavis-623 October 2000
I really enjoyed "Reversal of Fortune." It was a wonderful, satiric (take your pick: black comedy/crime drama/mystery). The acting was tremendous. Jeremy Irons was fantastic and his performance was definitely Oscar-worthy. The movie itself pushed the lines between arguing the truth and arguing the facts. Although the movie was never clear on whether Claus was in fact guilty or not, the movie was actually more enjoyable because of its ambiguity. The tactics used by Dershowitz were very convincing and plausible. One thing I must complain about was the addition of Sarah's relationship with Alan into the film, which wasn't very well done. Otherwise, fun for the whole family, if your family is a sardonic, evil, emotionless wreck.
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8/10
Taut drama, great acting
kjff20 June 2005
This one is a big winner! Based on the true story of the trial of Claus von Buelow and conviction of murdering his socialite wife and rich heiress, and famed attorney Alan Dershowitz's handling of his appeal.

This movie takes a fascinating topic, a fine book and terrific acting, mixes them all together and bakes a winner. But it is the acting that is supreme.

Another wonderful performance by Glenn Close (is there nothing she can't play) but an absolute smasher by Jeremy Irons as von Buelow. I've seen this movie several times (and read the book) and I still can't make a judgment on whether von Buelow did it. Irons' portrayal of von Buelow is that good.
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Good film, Great Performance
PBWise10 February 1999
The spooky yet amusing performance turned in by Jeremy Irons is worth watching all by itself. As an added bonus, the film is quite good as well. "Reversal of Fortune" thrives on its deft pacing, which keeps its relatively action-free plot interesting until the end. To the film's credit, the mystery is never fully solved; the viewer must ultimately decide the truth for himself. A treat for any thoughtful filmgoer.
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7/10
"What do you give a wife that has everything? ..... (long pause).... a shot of insulin." - Claus Von Bulow
Michael Margetis14 September 2005
Barbet Schroeder's darkly comic murder mystery 'Reversal of Fortune' was actually better than I thought it would be. It surrounds a social climber Claus Von Bulow (Jeremy Irons - Lolita) who is Charged and convicted with the double counts of attempted murder on his obnoxious and drunken wife Sunny Von Bulow (Glenn Close - Fatal Attraction) with insulin. Claus needs a lawyer to appeal so he contacts a stereo-typical Jewish lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, played incredibly by Ron Silver. Alan takes on Claus' case even though he believes him to be guilty and Alan and his team try to prove him innocent. Glenn Close gives a small but engrossing performance in this as the not so sympathetic victim while Jeremy Irons steals the entire film with his creepy and neurotic yet brilliant and amazing performances as the could-be murderer Claus. The screenplay is really solid and although kind of predictable offers nice thrills and very dark humor. 'Reversal of Fortune' rightfully won Jeremy Irons the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. If you want something kind of out-there be sure to rent 'Reversal of Fortune' one of these days. Grade: B
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10/10
Cold, and cruel and the way of the world...
MarieGabrielle27 June 2006
That is Sonny von Bulow's narrative as she describes the marriage between her and Claus, an infamous fortune seeker, who had made his way in the world the old fashioned way- he inherited it, by marriage.

This is an intriguing story because it is based on truth, and both Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons give stellar performances. It is trite but true; money has not brought happiness to either of these people. Sonny has apparently led a life of depression, eating disorders, alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. Claus was probably no stranger to similar vices, as well as episodic infidelity. It may have been even more interesting had the screenplay delved into their earlier years, lifestyles in Europe and world travel, living a hedonistic life.

In this case, murder is a nebulous concept. Claus von Bulow insists he is innocent, yet his many assertions to attorney Alan Dershowitz indicate otherwise. von Bulow is calculating, mysterious, and cold. Does this indicate guilt? The audience is never completely informed. That is what makes the story so real. As in real life, when murderers are set free, one may never know the truth. There is also a good side-story where Dershowitz is attempting to save two young black males from a death sentence. He does their case "pro bono", for the sake of justice, whereas von Bulow's case, as Dershowitz proclaims, is paying for their defense.

Overall, this is a tragic story which leaves many grey areas, one wonders how the children, Alex and Alah have survived this debacle. Another viewpoint would be an interesting screenplay. 10/10.

Dershowitz is portrayed by Ron Silver, who projects a realistic image.
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Remarkable performance by Irons
Arkaan16 August 1999
Claus von Bulow was accused and convicted of twice attempting to kill his wife, Sunny von Bulow. The film is about the appeal

Nicholas Kazan takes a huge risk, and has Sunny von Bulow (Glenn Close, who is marvelous) narrate the story, while in a coma. It pays off beautifully. We learn the lifestyle in which they inhabit, there daily arguments about Claus' "extra-curricular" activities, work, etc. In comes Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), who is hired by Claus to do the appeal.

Fascinating and provocative, we see the way Ron Silver tries to find out if his client is guilty or innocent. The cast is a treat to watch, down to even the smallest roles. But it's Jeremy Irons who dominates with his chilling performance.

By the end of the movie, we don't really care whether or not Claus is guilty, a testament to Barbet Schroeder, and Nicholas Kazan.
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10/10
A Unique, Deep, Dark, Psychological, and Suspenseful Film
hschiller-229-8507503 February 2013
I love this film. Every shot feels effortlessly dense. In every shot, one can see texture, whether it is in the landscape of a bedroom or a hotel room, or the structure of a man or woman's face. The cinematography is dark and gloomy. The story, as you likely know, as you have either seen the film, or have read the IMDb summary, is about Claus von Bulow, who has been accused of attempting to murder his wife twice, both times sending her into a coma, the first coma which lasts only a few hours, the second which lasted until 2008 and turned Sunny Bulow into a vegetable. The story is, as all good stories are, so multilayered that it seems to evolve as time goes along. Unlike most films made nowadays, and indeed most stories told in history, it is not linear and obvious. The story threatens to go in any direction at any time. All of the characters seem human, balancing on the line of their own soul and being, reaching out toward other people or retracting into themselves. The Main characters are Claus Von Bulow, Sunny Bulow, and Alan Dershowitz. They are each played by great actors. The film is expertly directed and represents each of these characters separate lives. The viewer sees each character as sympathetic but realizes at certain points throughout the film that the characters may have reached a turning point and made a bad choice or perverted their hearts goodness and done wrong towards another. The film has a lot of subtext. Though the characters do come out and state what they are thinking at various points, for the most part the film shows, not tells. Although all the actors do good jobs in this film, the crown must be placed on the head of Jeremy Irons, one of the greatest actors in history. Irons is often mocked for being very dense and inanimated, I personally think this is because most film watchers are used to actors who are less subtle and less skilled than Irons. His subtlety is extraordinary. This performance may be the most subtle in film history. The performance is mysterious and dark, unexpressibly creepy, but also sympathetic. At one point int he film(don't worry, this isn't a spoiler),Claus von Bulow leans slightly forward in a car, with his head almost completely in shadow and responds to Alan Dershowitz claim "You are a strange man," with the words "You have no idea." Irons is just brilliant. His performance must be seen. The film as a whole explores many theme, favoring emotion and thematic depth over bare bones plot. One of the more interesting themes is the idea that every moment is in the now, and so every human being is freshly born every minute and so they must be forgiven for wrong things they have done in the past. Another theme is the idea that no one truly knows another person, that all people have secrets, hidden characteristics and emotions that are hidden even to themselves as well as to other people. This is the theme I fell that this patient film expresses best. It is well paced and allows you to feel every scene before moving on to the next. The film also explores the importance of humor and the need for humor in humanity. This provides great unexpected moments throughout the film. This is one of my favorite films in history. It is so patient in the camera-work and performances. It feels like more than an interpretation. It feels like a reality or at least a possibility. This is a rare achievement. It is an uncategorizable experience, a great work of art, and a film of astonishing depth. It is one of the few that reaches the true depth of the soul. it does not only confirm something that other films have told us. It twists and turns, until the viewer and the film and the characters are all one. An excellent film.
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Lifestyles of the rich and murderous
blanche-229 August 2011
Ron Silver is Alan Dershowitz, the brilliant attorney who takes on Claus von Bulow's murder conviction on appeal in "Reversal of Fortune," a 1990 film starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons, beautifully directed by Barbet Schroeder. The film, of course, is based on the notorious von Bulow case. Sunny von Bulow was a socialite who became brain dead, and her husband, Claus, was accused of injecting her with insulin in an attempt to kill her. Sunny lived in a coma for nearly 28 years.

Sunny (Close) herself narrates the story, beginning when Claus (Irons) calls Dershowitz and asks him to take his appeal. Dershowitz takes the case and involves his law students (including a very young Felicity Huffman) in it.

It's all left pretty ambiguous - Sunny tells us that this is all we can know for now. Though von Bulow was found guilty of attempted murder at the first trial, Dershowitz won his appeal, and von Bulow was found not guilty at a second trial. After that, von Bulow moved to England. Since his daughter Cosima had taken his side in the case, Cosima's maternal grandmother disinherited her. In order to get her back in the will, von Bulow gave up any claim to Sunny's money.

Glenn Close is excellent as the unhappy Sunny - a woman beset by health and weight problems as well as drug addiction and her husband's infidelity. But the backbone of the story is the character of Claus, and here Jeremy Irons does a fantastic job and deservedly received an Oscar for it. He is cold, unemotional, snobbish, and really makes you wonder if he did it or not.

There are other good performances in the film, including that of Fisher Stevens as a supposed witness, the great Uta Hagen as Sunny's devoted maid, Christine Baranski as Claus' new girlfriend ("I told him, get the Jew," she tells Dershowitz), and Julie Hagerty as Alexandra Isles.

After the first trial, I transcribed an interview with one of the jurors, and boy, did he think Claus did it. Despite the second verdict, "did he or didn't he" is a shadow that will always hang over Claus von Bulow.
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