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Fascinating character studies
DeeNine-223 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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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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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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"What do you give a wife that has everything? ..... (long pause).... a shot of insulin." - Claus Von Bulow
MichaelMargetis14 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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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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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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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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Strange but good
onepotato228 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Early on in this movie, Jeremy Irons delivers a line so poorly, that he just comes off as Jeremy Irons doing a terrible impression of Claus von Bulow ("Becauwz, Sunny detested dawk-tawrs!") If you were to roll your eyes and turn it off there, you'd miss a dryly funny, creepy, sad movie based on a nonfiction legal procedural... which is pretty bizarre in and of itself. This view into the lives of the idle rich is stunning.

The movie is narrated by Sunny von Bulow from her coma, which is only the second time I've seen a device like this used. (Sunset Blvd you'll recall, has an atypical narrator). People take issue with the narration, but I found the conceit to be the reason the movie grabbed my attention. Sunny's narration haunts the characters. Her august, bitter pronouncements lend the movie a compelling tone, which she and the movie wouldn't have if she was limited to just living scenes. The freedom the creative team feels in adapting a non-fiction news item is exhilarating: Narrating from a coma? A ghost-cam? A funny docu-drama about killing your wife? A deliberately chilly blue cast to the cinematography... Black humor from Irons sounding like Boris Karloff... What a mash-up. It does makes me wonder how such an unflattering portrait of Sunny was allowed by her children. And Irons more than makes up for that early dud line with many acid subtle readings. Lastly the film has an eerie, amorphous score that is very nice.

If I take issue with anything it's the Dershowitz (Ron Silver) portion of the film; which comprises a lesser, more sanctimonious product. With a "diversity-approved team" of coeds seemingly borrowed from 'the kids from Fame,' who generally give bad, uber-sincere performances that almost tank the movie.

Ultimately a woman with unlimited freedom and money is nonetheless shown to be as deliriously unhappy as anyone else. Irons won the Oscar, but Glenn Close inhabits her role also. She's quite good. Just rent it.
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Did He Or Didn't He?
ccthemovieman-113 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This was a movie, and based a true-life story, that left a lot of people puzzled. Did he - Claus von Bulow - murder his wife, or didn't he? After watching this film a decade ago, I still wasn't sure.

The story is a fascinating one and the movie is well-done, too. Was the story biased? Probably since it comes from a book written by attorney shown in the movie but, as someone who mainly knows the story only from this film, I am not qualified to say how much of this is truth, fiction and/or bias. Nonetheless, I am usually intrigued with character studies, another reason I liked this movie.

I only know the story was interesting and Jeremy Irons as "von Bulow;" and Glenn Close his wife "Sunny," and Ron Silver as attorney "Alan Dershowitz," were all fascinating to me, all turning in fine performances. It's ironic that Silver, who played mostly sleazy characters in this timer period, played a law professor. It was appropriate casting. Irons won an Oscar for his effort and is obviously the focus of the story.

The only thing I warn viewers is not to be duped by the message in there that you can't ever know the truth, everything is relative, etc. This is nonsense and the kind of psycho-babble defense lawyers love to spew. What's sad is that all the education in the world, Dershowitz proves here, means nothing if you don't realize there ARE absolutes in the world. Yes, Alan, murder is wrong: that's a black-and-white issue. I'll bet this lawyer would have loved to be on the O.J. Simpson trial, too, and would have had no qualms helping his get a "not guilty" verdict.

So, enjoy the fine performances in this film but take things with a grain of salt because this story is definitely biased.
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Money doesn't buy happiness.
wardkm23 October 2000
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the better dramas based on a true story because it portrays the fact that money doesn't buy happiness. The movie was about the appeal of Claus von Bulow who was convicted of attempting to murder his wife, Sunny. The movie only eluded to Claus's innocence and never revealed the events that actually took place. Although there were speculations about how Sunny fell into her coma, the truth will never be known. The truth is only relative and favorable to the storyteller. The purpose of the appeal was to show that Claus couldn't be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Alan Dershowitz, Claus's appeal lawyer, did this by disproving the theory of the prosecutors. The reason Alan Dershowitz took the case wasn't because he believed Claus was guilty or innocent. He defended Claus because he disagreed with the idea that the wealthy can hire their own prosecutors, which allows them to decide what evidence should be used. Dershowitz hired a team of people to disprove every aspect of the prosecutors theory on how Claus attempted to murder Sunny. In conclusion, this was a good movie because it allows the viewer to convict or acquit Claus according to their speculations.
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Irons is brilliant but where is his danish accent?
policy1343 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
To say that Jeremy Irons could play anything is close to the truth but he didn't seem much like the real Von Bülow to me. I have seen several interviews with the real Bülow and Irons as good as he is strikes me as someone who chose to play him as a big put on. We are never really sure what he thinks and that's of course how the director told Irons to play it. Still, I can't help but think that Irons is too much aware of himself playing another person. If he had been playing a fictional character or someone who wasn't currently alive it would have been different. I think maybe he was too aware that Bülow was too much of a caricature's if he had played him as seen in interviews or elsewhere.

The movie itself is pure entertainment and nothing more and on that note it delivers. It doesn't try to teach us that the rich are bad people, although the Dershowitz character's philosophy is certainly not aimed in favor of the rich. What it does is take a story which in real life was fascinating and one that producers just wouldn't have been able to resist. If it hadn't been made into a feature, TV producers would be standing in line to make "Sunny Von Bülow" mini-series or "Claus and Sunny - the way we were but now aren't". The title of this movie is all the better for that very reason because I have never seen a title that could be interpreted in more ways than one and still not suck. "Reversal" is not a word anyone uses ten times a day and i am not even sure that you could translate it into Danish but it fits right in here.

The people who have seen this movie must be millions and as someone who can remember when the real thing happened - trust me - this is not reality but what a thrilling experience anyway.
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Schroeder's "Rebecca"
manuel-pestalozzi6 January 2004
Reversal of Fortune sent more chills down my spine than any horror movie. The story once more proves why real murder cases are so interesting: It is not a (supposed) criminal act or the lawsuit that fascinates but the detailed insight into human relations and behavior patterns which a investigation of the circumstances allows. Barbet Schroeder, certainly a brilliant observer, seems to share this view and created a wonderfully stylized, finely crafted, superbly cast movie around the Claus von Bülow trial.

Fotography, lighting and the set design really are of the first order. The main "stage" of the film is a big mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. I don't know how much of the movie was shot on location - in any case the place reminded me strongly of Manderly, the country home in Alfred Hitchcock‘s "Rebecca". Somehow Sunny von Bülow, she is seen lying in her state of eternal coma and heard recounting events and musing about them in a voice over, is the mythical Rebecca Hinrich become flesh and blood in the most gruesome way imaginable.

The home of the von Bülows has the feel of a funeral parlor. The most important room is Sunny von Bülow's private bathroom, the door of which is flanked by two porcelain busts on high pedestals, like some gate of doom. Despite the warm colors, the opulent furniture, the glossy surfaces (they seem to come out directly of an old fashioned women's magazine), it is deadly cold in the world of the von Bülows. The emotional detachment of the whole family - apparently even the children - is truly horrific. The most hilarious scene is ever expressionless Claus von Bülow joining his wife in the marital bed with a thick sweater, a scarf and a woolen cap (Sunny von Bülows insists on keeping the window open on principle even in freezing temperatures). He turns away from his wife and, as the last act before turning off the light, puts his earplugs in.

Oh, and then there is law professor Dershowitz and his team. What has he got to do with this movie? Very little, I should say. The bubbly intellectualistic crowd occasionally allow the viewers to relax a little, but their sporadic intrusions into the "circle" of the von Bulows in no way counterbalance the weight and the frigid opulence that comes to dominate Reversal of Fortune. And that's just fine with me – as far as cinematic art is concerned.
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Legality and Morality
gavin694223 October 2015
Wealthy Sunny von Bülow (Glenn Close) lies brain-dead, husband Claus (Jeremy Irons) guilty of attempted murder; but he says he is innocent and hires Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) for his appeal.

This film, based more or less on a true story, brings up one of those age-old legal ethics questions. Is morality and legality the same? Not at all. A person, no matter how strange or despicable, deserves the best defense. But if someone is found innocent, that does not automatically make them morally innocent. (And here we never quite know if Claus is an attempted killer or just does not care.)

Jeremy Irons excels as always, and Glenn Close may have found her best role: being in a coma. She has never been good at anything else. And Ron Silver? Heck, he even made a soul-sucking loser like Dershowitz come across as a fascinating guy.
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Fabulous, involving movie
Andreapworth27 May 2012
After seeing the previews, you can never get Jeremy Iron's voice out of your head, when he replies to a question with "you have no idea".

Very effective narration by the great Glenn Close. His children also some into play, as well as the man playing Allen Dershewitz, and his whole legal team.

Yes, you know he'll be acquitted but the telling takes the entire movie. I haven't seen it in many years, but parts of it just don't leave your memory. I do think that Sunny Von Bulow was a very troubled soul. Perhaps troubled by having too much money and everything she wanted for the asking.

You've got to have the TIME to see the whole movie and appreciate its many twists and turns. But well worth the effort. And well worth seeing Jeremy Irons nail the part.
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money and murder
mjneu5929 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The facts in the case of Claus von Bülow, convicted of murdering his wife but later acquitted in a headline-grabbing re-trial, are filtered through a European sense of irony into a portrait of icy upper-crust alienation and detachment. The film itself is no less aloof than its subject, favoring the legal technicalities of the case over its moral implications (the team of legal eagles defending the accused killer even wear nifty self-promotional t-shirts), and contrasting the upper class ice of von Bülow to the blue-collar fire of his lawyer (Ron Silver). Jeremy Irons gives a pitch-perfect reading of his character's cold, careless life of privilege, while Glenn Close plays the ill-fated Sunny von Bülow as a somewhat more pathetic variation of her psycho role in 'Fatal Attraction'. Her clumsy death-bed voice-over narration is an awkward attempt to balance the scales of justice, but in the end both the film and the legal case favor the defendant, with ace attorney Silver presenting his client as a public scapegoat for daring to fulfill every henpecked husband's darkest fantasy. In which case the film itself has to be regarded as the same browbeaten husband's perfect daydream of legal vindication.
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Utterly creepy!
majikstl2 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers
When you're finished watching this film you are likely to believe two things: 1) Claus von Bulow got away with the attempted murder of his socialite wife because 2) his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, is totally amoral. Faced with a client who he obviously believes is probably guilty, Dershowitz resorts to one of the least respected of all legal tactics: blaming the victim. The film - co-written by Dershowitz - degenerates from a rather ordinary legal drama into an endless series of attacks on the character of Sunny von Bulow, who, being in a coma, is hardly in any shape to defend herself. The film aggressively suggests that if Sunny von Bulow didn't cause her own misfortune, she certainly had it coming to her. Such a tactic is dangerous in a courtroom, because it can loose the jury's sympathy. But in a movie, especially one as one-sided and biased as this, it is a safe and even cowardly action. Watching this movie is like being allowed only to hear one side of the case. Anything damaging to Claus von Bulow is mentioned only if Dershowitz can rationalize it away; anything offered in defense of Sunny von Bulow's character (testimony or actions of friends and relatives) is rapidly discredited.

But what moves the film from being merely a nasty, self-serving ego trip for Dershowitz into the realm of the utterly creep and despicable is the cinema trick of having Sunny offer testimony. Though comatose and vegetating in bed, Dershowitz and director Barbet Schroeder put words into Sunny's mouth, making her a totally unwilling voice-over witness in von Bulow's defense. Dershowitz could never get away with such a thing in a court of law, but he obviously has no moral qualms about manipulating history and reality to try to justify his own dubious legal integrity in the court of cinematic public opinion. The villain in Reversal of Fortune is not Claus von Bulow, who, as embodied by Jeremy Irons in a quirky one-note performance, seems to be his own worse enemy. The villain here is Dershowitz (and the legal system he represents) who seems to believe winning - no matter what the cost - is more important than justice and feeding one's own ego is its own reward. The only saving grace in this callous film is that all involved are so shallow and unsympathetic one never really cares about the guilt or innocence of any of them.
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Cold and Dry
itamarscomix22 December 2012
Reversal of Fortune is a dramatization of a real-life attempted murder case, as documented in the book by the same title which was written by Alan M. Dershowitz, defense attorney to the main suspect, Claus von Bülow. The film works as a solid little courtroom drama with an intriguing story, a clever script and an impressive cast; but it doesn't go the extra mile into something more than a daytime TV movie. It tries hard to break the mold - most notably, by having much of the film narrated by the victim - but at heart, it remains a very plain legal drama; and emotionally, it maintains a dry, distant coldness that doesn't allow the viewer to care about anything that's going on. That feeling of emotional disconnection leads to a film with a steady pace, with no highs and lows, and with no real climaxes or tension. In other words - rather dull, and unless you really pay attention to the details of the case, there's nothing much to grab onto.

It's also worth mentioning that the film's poster, as well as Jeremy Irons's Oscar win, is more than a bit misleading, because Irons and Glenn Close aren't really the main characters, though the story revolves around them; and in fact Irons's performance is completely over-the-top and certainly not up to the standards he set two years earlier with his masterful work on Dead Ringers. The majority of the film revolves around Ron Silver, who plays Dershowitz himself; and while Silver's performance is understated and quiet, it's also the strongest one in the film. But it's just not enough to give it any emotional or moral weight and to keep the whole thing together, because the viewer doesn't care about Dershowitz winning or losing the trial any more then they do about Von Bülow being found guilty or not.
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Prince Of Perversion
slokes16 December 2012
When a rich but difficult-to-live-with woman turns up in a coma, suspicions naturally fall upon her someone sinister spouse. But even a guilty man deserves a fair trial, or so a committed legal scholar believes in a film about skewed viewpoints that plays with our own point of view.

First-billed actor Glenn Close plays Sunny von Bülow in a bed for much of the film, either laid out in a druggy haze or in a full-fledged coma from which she tells us she won't emerge. That leaves Ron Silver as legal eagle Alan Dershowitz handling most of the action arranging a fresh defense for convicted murderer Claus von Bülow, whom Jeremy Irons plays with slick tragi-comic flair.

"Let the chips fall where they may!" he tells Dershowitz when warned about the perils of seeking out the truth.

"That's what an innocent man would say," a skeptical Dersh replies.

"I know," says smug Claus with a lazy pull at his cigarette. Is he sincere, or playing a part?

Director Barbet Schroeder seems to have a thing about the tricky ground where power and morality meet: He made his name with a documentary of dictator Idi Amin that came in two versions, a friendlier one for Amin's domestic distribution in Uganda and a less guarded version for international distribution. Here he seems to enjoy his proximity to another devil, albeit one who may be innocent after all.

We certainly root for Claus, mainly because Irons plays him in a way that makes him an underdog, whether against the legal system or Dershowitz's team of young lawyers who mock him about his sex life. "We can't all be like you," he tells Dershowitz after the latter goes off on him for his lack of apparent concern about his vegetative wife, and there's a trace of real feeling in his line reading.

He seems less a cold-blooded killer than the emotionally-stunted product of a rich society, in a way not much different from poor Sunny. She wants to lie in bed smoking and pill-popping while he wants a career, not to mention a little time with a pretty soap-opera actress. "You marry me for my money, then you demand to work," she huffs. "You're the prince of perversion."

We are encouraged to see him that way, too, although not necessarily a criminal one. He lives a life so far removed from normal human interaction and concerns that he seems to enjoy his little jests even if no one else can - except the audience, which makes us a little perverse, too.

"Reversal Of Fortune" has a lot of great moments, but plenty of duff ones, too. There's a subplot about a sleazy gadabout played with zest by Fisher Stevens that never gels with the main story, and neither does an attempt at shoehorning some romance for Dershowitz with one of his assistants. Nicholas Kazan delivers a smart script but does get stuck in the weeds trying to get across a good deal of information.

Silver is great though, giving pound for pound the film's best performance even if Close is first-billed and Irons won the Best Actor Oscar. You need a center for a film like this, and someone who's morally grounded, but Dershowitz is presented as that here only in a relative sense. He not only takes Claus's case despite his belief of his guilt, but can even joke about wanting to defend Hitler in a court of law, just so he can kill him after by himself.

Is Dershowitz the film's real prince of perversion? Schroeder and crew aren't saying, but you can tell they're having fun making you think.
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Creepy tale of lifestyles of the rich
senortuffy6 June 2003
This is a terrific film to watch just for the atmosphere and excellent acting.

Jeremy Irons gives the performance of his life (he won an Oscar for best actor) as Klaus von Bulow, accused of attempting to murder his rich wife. Irons plays his role close to the vest, never letting on whether his creepy demeanor is meant to hide the truth from his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who suspects throughout the film that his client is hiding something. One of the best scenes is when Dershowitz says to von Bulow, "You are a very strange man," and he cocks his head and flatly answers, "You have no idea."

The movie works because it's never revealed whose side of the story is the truth. A case is made against von Bulow that seems plausible, and his recollection of events seems equally plausible. This approach eliminates the need to place value judgements on the characters and allows the viewer to just sit back and enjoy the performances.

Besides Jeremy Irons, Ron Silver does an excellent job as Alan Dershowitz. He plays the lawyer as more of a champion of the working class than the real life person we saw during the O.J. trial, which is a good thing. Glenn Close narrates the film and has some memorable scenes as the demented Sonny von Bulow. She's got the mannerisms of an emotionally withdrawn society woman down perfectly. And the screenplay by Nicholas Kazan provides the actors with many good lines.

Solid movie and one a lot of people have never seen - no car crashes or special effects, just good acting and good writing.
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Very Good, Well Casted Movie
gbheron3 November 2001
"Reversal of Fortune" is based on Alan Dershowitz's book on the two trials of Claus von Bülow, accused of attempting to murder his wife, Sunny, by drug overdose. But instead of killing her, she is left in a deep coma from which she will never arise. This movie is cleverly narrated by the comatose Sunny with the story told in flashback. Also, the movie is non-judgmental, it take no sides on who is telling the truth, even on the point of whether a murder was even attempted. Did he do it or was the overdose an accident? As Sonny herself says in the beginning of the movie, "you tell me".

Everything about this movie works; great performances (helped by great casting), directing, and screenwriting. Nothing is amiss. If it is true that Western movie habits are changing away from mindless action movies, then "Reversal of Fortune" should enjoy a renaissance at the local video store. It deserves it.
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Legal Game of Cat and Mouse: The Most Sensational Trial 15 Years Before the OJ Case
classicalsteve25 April 2010
At the beginning of the film, one of Alan Dershowitz' law students who has volunteered to assist in putting together Claus Von Bülow's defense appeal says, "I agree Von Bülow is guilty, but then, that's the fun - that's the challenge." Within this seemingly innocent and yet irreverent statement is really the essence of how justice is meted out in the United States. It is not a straightforward linear institution in which those who are guilty are punished, and those who are innocent are freed, as most people believe it should be to maintain a healthy society. What most people don't realize is that because the justice system has become so large and complex with literally hundreds of crimes being committed every day and almost as many being tried in court, the entire institution is essentially a legalistic game.

Acquittals or convictions are not necessarily the result of whether someone is truly innocent or guilty. Verdicts are the product of a host of other circumstances: the strength of evidence against a suspect, the adeptness of the prosecution, the backgrounds of the jury, and, most importantly, the quality of a defendant's representation. After having been convicted of twice trying to murder his wife and multi-millionaire Sunny Von Bülow, Claus Von Bülow hired one of the best legal minds of the late 20th century, Alan Dershowitz, to handle his appeal.

"Reversal of Fortune" (based on Dershowitz' book of the same name) is a dramatization of the circumstances surrounding the eventual vegetative state of Sunny Von Bülow, the indictment against her husband Claus Von Bülow, his first trial in which he was convicted, and the stunning appeal in which the Supreme Court of Rhode Island overturned the lower court's conviction thereby awarding the defendant a new trial. Aside from the melodrama between Claus and Sunny and the events leading up to Sunny's coma, a hefty portion of the film is devoted to the case on appeal. Defense lawyer and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, played by the late Ron Silver in one of his best performances, is the captain of a makeshift law-firm comprised of law students who will get their first taste of an actual case.

As interesting as the flashbacks involving Claus, Sunny, their children, and some of Claus' love interests are, the scenes involving Dershowitz and the law students, and how they prepare the appeal are the most fascinating aspects of the film. Their meetings and discussions which involve dissecting the prosecution's case to find weaknesses demonstrate the behind-the-scenes preparations that occur before going into court. At one point, Dershowitz explains to his students that cases are won in the field and not the courtroom. The transcripts of the original trial become the basis by which Dershowitz' team destroys the prosecution's case. For example, the legal team go through minute details, such as syringes whose needles have insulin encrusted on them which were found at the crime scene. The students do research and are told by medical experts that "dirty needles" are inconsistent with injection because the skin acts as a "swab" and cleans the needle after injection. These are the kinds of minute details which end up having large legal implications that help determine the resulting verdict on appeal.

What keeps the story moving is the outstanding acting. Jeremy Irons (in an Academy-Award-Winning performance) steals the show with his enigmatic performance of what Sunny considers "not a normal person." Irons finds that strange combination of cool detachment and spontaneous passion, especially with regards to women. Over and over, Dershowitz tries without success to uncover who is client really is, aside from all the muck splashed in the tabloids. Ron Silver keeps up with Irons stride-for-stride, showing us Alan Dershowitz as the lawyer who is at first fascinated then all-consumed by the case. Glenn Close is completely believable as Sunny Von Bülow, the filthy rich heiress who likes pills, sweets, and lying in bed more than anything else. Honorable mention goes to the actors playing the students, some of whom have gone onto fine careers (both in acting and in law!) Apparently, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was one of Dershowitz' law students who worked on the case, although he does not appear to be mentioned by name in the film. A wonderful film overall, and a strange prelude to the OJ Simpson case of a few years later. The film has it all: sex, murder, and legal corruption. How could you go wrong?
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What has happened since the movie
darbyhill29 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Don't read if you haven't watched the movie.

After his acquittal Claus returned to Europe. Sunny's fortune was split between her two oldest children Ala and Alexander. Cosima, Sunny's only child with Claus, was initially disinherited because she had sided with her father during the trial, she was later given $30 million if Claus promised to drop any claims to his wife estate. I read about a 1996 University of Toronto classroom study and it stated she is located in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, which is in Manhattan. She has round the clock attenants for her hair, makeup and nails. She does not respond to any stimuli, she is fed through a tube but she can breath on her own. Brain-waves indicate a sleep-wake sequences. It has been noted that she smiles sometimes (her lips curl up) and her eyes open periodically. She has even teared up when she has been visited by her eldest two children...... Clause writes theater and art reviews.
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