‘The Rainmaker’ is a 1997 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola who also wrote the screenplay based on the fictional legal thriller of the same name by John Grisham. Though it was released by Paramount Pictures, it was produced by American Zoetrope and Constellation Films.
Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) is a young law student who goes to work for a law firm run by cutthroat attorney Lyman “Bruiser” Stone (Mickey Rourke). While in his employ, he becomes the lawyer for the widow Mrs. Birdsong (Teresa Wright) who wants to cut her kids out of her will and eventually moves into an apartment above her garage. He also meets battered wife Kelly Riker (Claire Danes) while at a hospital with paralegal Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito) to grab clients. After he passes the bar, he also gains clients in Dot (Mary Kay Place) and Buddy Black (Red West), whose 22-year-old son, Donny Ray (Johnny Whitworth), is dying of leukemia, but cannot get the insurance company to pay for a treatment that could cure him. When Stone’s offices get raided by the FBI, Rudy and Deck start their own law firm, taking his three clients.
When Donny Ray passes from his illness, Judge Tyrone Kipler (Danny Glover) presides over the case and Rudy comes face-to-face with the ruthless attorney Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight) who will stop at nothing to either get a settlement or get his client off.
I have not read the novel by John Grisham, so I cannot compare the film to its source material, as such I can only review it as a film and not as an adaptation.
As a fan of courtroom dramas, I was thoroughly impressed with this movie. The thrill of a young stalwart attorney facing off a smarmy seasoned litigator is on full display and the plot plays out very well. It is well structured and easy to follow as you watch the events unfold before your eyes.
I want to praise Damon, Voight, DeVito, and Danes. All of them were excellent in their roles. The center of the drama shows Damon standing off against Voight in the courtroom. The tension between the two is felt as they go head-to-head and those are the best scenes in the movie. DeVito as the shady paralegal who cannot quite pass the bar provided just enough comedy relief to tone down the seriousness without breaking the stride. Also, Dane’s subplot, though it is not connected to the main case does not slow down the movie and her acting skills definitely make an excellent focal point of the movie.
I will say, it is odd that this is a Coppola production. Other legal thrillers like The Lincoln Lawyer or even other Grisham adaptions like The Firm have way more value as a film than this courtroom drama. Though it is good, it is not a great movie that the director of The Godfather or The Great Gatsby brought to audiences. His decline had already begun at this point and though this is slightly better than other movies he had done in the nineties, it does not measure up to his other features.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a good legal thriller with plenty of courtroom drama that has excellent performances, The Rainmaker is the right film to place in your “to watch” queue.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Foul language, Thematic Elements
FAVORITE QUOTE: Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t really mean to cross… it just happens… And if you cross it enough times it disappears forever. And then you’re nothing but another lawyer joke. Just another shark in the dirty water.
Check out the trailer below:
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