Rudy Baylor is a jobless young attorney. However, he is also the only hope of an elderly couple whose insurance company will not pay for an operation that could save their son's life. In this judicial drama, Rudy learns to hate corporate America as he falls in love with a battered young married woman. Will he be up to the task? Written by
Steve Richer <email@example.com>
Readers of John Grisham's book will find this film rather less of a thriller and more of a courtroom drama, albeit with a curious flat feel to it. The story is that of a legal action on behalf of a teenage boy denied coverage for an expensive bone marrow transplant by his family's medical insurer. Changes to the plotline to accommodate the story to the demands of film drama have removed the unique feature of the book a largely successful attempt to make the details of legal civil procedure interesting. Francis Coppola is a very innovative yet conventional director (you could credit him with authorship of several current movie clichés) and his storylines develop according to convention. Thus the love affair, which is completely extraneous to the main storyline in the book, is pumped up, and the fascinating battle of wits between the lawyers played down. As in the book, Rudy is the tyro David up against the experienced Goliath, Drummond, but Rudy's inexperience is played up to the point that you wonder how he got this far. The trial judge, who in the book is extremely helpful to Rudy, is replaced in the film by a sympathetic but much more impartial figure. In Hollywood conventional courtroom drama, His Honor or Her Honor doesn't take sides.
That said, there is much to enjoy. Danny de Vito, playing Deck the paralegal (or `paralawyer' as Rudy names him) who can't seem to pass the bar exam, is just brilliant. His Deck is a disheveled, unimpressive little guy who is nonetheless good at what he does, `rainmaking' or finding new business. His strengths are his intelligence, his energy and his lack of pride; he is quite happy to chase ambulances and give cops backhanders for information. His ethics are simple: fight for your client, don't steal and try not to lie. While the Deck of the book verges on the grotesque, De Vito makes him less of an oddball and hence more sympathetic. Matt Damon as Rudy is wetter behind the ears and not such a quick learner as the Rudy of the book, but every so often he connects and we understand how he feels. Mickey Rourke is a bit too elegant as Bruiser, Rudy's erstwhile mentor, (who wears cufflinks on a tropical beach?) but it's also an enjoyable performance. Although the script tones down his role, John Voight is nastily urbane as superlawyer Drummond.
Once again we have a courtroom drama filmed in a grand but gloomy courtroom, in fact the lighting people seem to have been absent. We hardly get a glimpse of the face of one important minor character, Cliff the wife-beater, (Andrew Shue) yet there is no apparent reason for this. The way some of the scenes were strung together, and started and finished were vaguely familiar, and half way through it hit me - ` The Godfather', where scenes just seem to begin and end without any particular reason.
One thing the film does almost as well as the book is send the message (sorry Mr Goldwyn) that America needs to do something about its medical insurance system, if the present chaotic mess can be so described. The court system, while not perfect, comes out of it a bit better (David is able to beat Goliath fair and square) but as for lawyers well, let's just say things would be a lot better if they stuck to Deck's minimal ethics. The story also might explain why John Grisham (who has a walk-on role as a lawyer at an al fresco deposition) gave up the law to write books, thus bringing pleasure to millions instead of (hopefully) winning retribution for a few.
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