In late 1950s New York, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.
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>
The microphone stand when Wilfred Keeley is in the witness chair. See more »
My father hated lawyers all his life. He wasn't a great guy, my old man. He drank and beat up my mother; he beat me up too. So you might think I became a lawyer just to piss him off. But you'd be wrong. I wanted to be a lawyer ever since I read about the Civil Rights lawyers in the 50s and 60s, and the amazing uses they found for the law. They did what a lot of people thought was the impossible. They gave lawyers a good name. And so I went to law school. And it did piss my father ...
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This movie is not a movie that makes you think. It's not arty, there are no Corleones, there's really no issues to ponder long after the credits have stopped rolling. Instead it's a human drama that uses a courtroom battle as its backbone, but the entire body is the honestly-told if ultimately remarkable of a greenhorn lawyer trying to make a life for himself after law school. Like the more recent "Garden State" the movie is far more interesting than one would initially expect.
I recently read the Grisham novel that the screenplay was adapted from and was impressed by the memorable cast of the characters. The corrupt-and-loving-it Prince and Bruiser, Deck Shiflett as the skeezy "paralawyer" who scrapes out a living with an amusing lack of self-consciousness, the bitter-tempered first judge and his pioneering, biased black successor, the politely patronizing and puffed-up Legal Titan Leo Drummond, Cliff and his straight-from-Deliverance hillbilly family, lonely and slightly bossy Miss Birdie, chain-smoking Dot and her addled husband, all of them set a standard for memorable but believable characters.
Yet the movie is itself a cut or two above the original material. The extended cast does a hands-down fantastic job of bringing each character to life. First billing has to go to Danny Devito for transforming Deck from Rudy's unscrupulous and ugly sidekick in the novel, into a more take-charge and casually hilarious partner. Just take a look at the scene where he leads Rudy into the hospital or when he's giving out his card to the kids in Dot's neighborhood. But that's just one of about twenty stellar acting jobs. The extended cast includes Danny Glover, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, Mickey Rourke (yes!), Virginia Madsen, and a handful of other talented but lesser-known actors who show their absolute best through the skillful lens of Coppola.
Besides the stellar job by the cast, the story is tweaked to absolute perfection. Whether it's the Coppola magic or an excellent adaptation and editing job, I see a transformation similar to his triumph with "The Godfather": an absorbing but complex and sometimes rambling story is condensed into its absolute essence. Not a single shot is out of place.
Something else struck me about this adaptation -- it reminds me of Peter Jackson's LOTR in the way comic moments are used to balance out the weightiness of the main plot. For example: in LOTR Merry and Pippin set off Gandalf's dragon fireworks, or in the second movie Gimli can't see over the parapet towards the advancing Uruk-hai, or in the third movie Sam and Gollum have their argument over the proper preparation of rabbits and 'taters and Gandalf instructs Pippin to keep his big mouth shut before they enter the hall of Minas Tirith. Likewise "The Rainmaker" has its little touches of humor as well, from the sardonic lawyer jokes in Rudy's voice-over, to the scene where Deck fake-helpfully hands over Drummond's lost shoe after he's been assaulted by an angry juror, to Rudy's red-faced apology to the car accident victim in traction whom he has accidentally jostled, to Madsen's laconic yet particularly devoted husband Bert. ("Guess who DIED last night?" "...Do you ever sleep?") There is anxiety during Kelly's return to her house, the suspense of the bug showdown, the pathos of Rudy's final speech: all these combine with the lighter moments to balance each other like a film version of Pickapeppa sauce.
Who could have ever guessed that a Grisham novel could be so perfectly adapted to the screen?! Just try watching the "Pelican Brief" afterward for comparison. My hat is off to Coppola, his cast, and everyone else who contributed to this understated masterwork.
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