John Grishamís The Rainmaker

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

November 18, 1997

Francis Ford Coppola has a way with pulp. Twenty-five years ago, he faithfully adapted a book that was dismissed as a potboiler and made a classic with The Godfather. He may not work the same miracle with John Grishamís umpteenth legal melodrama, The Rainmaker, but he gives the story a sincerity and a vitality it probably wouldnít have had otherwise.

The setup is a more than a little familiar. Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon from Courage Under Fire) is a struggling Memphis law student who joins a firm of ambulance chasers simply because there are no other opportunities. His mentor is a disgruntled former insurance company employee named Deck Shiffler (Danny DeVito, at his sleazy best). Deck knows has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Memphis legal system, but he canít pass the bar exam.

Shortly after passing the test himself, Rudy winds up in a situation Johnnie Cochran couldnít get him out of. Rudy and Deck have the unenviable task of pleading the case of a dying man against an insurance firm thatís as large as it is crooked. They have an ace legal team (led by a suitably smooth Jon Voight) and a vast arsenal of dirty tricks. If the stress of pursuing justice against such formidable odds werenít enough, Rudy gets personally involved with a domestic abuse case that could endanger both his career and his health.

You can tell where the storyís going when Damonís voiceover begins. Fortunately, Coppola injects a healthy dose of cynical humor that keeps The Rainmaker from sinking into the histrionic excesses that have tainted some of the other Grisham adaptations like A Time to Kill and The Chamber.

This film doesnít have the explosions, hair-raising chases or flying bullets that have characterized its predecessors. Instead, Coppola chooses to concentrate on the characters and some of the less honorable tendencies of the legal profession. He also has a way of making even some of the most hackneyed or maudlin scenes become palatable.

The fact that he gets the most out of his able cast doesnít hurt. For example, Claire Danes plays the abused wife with enough sincerity and dignity that the situation doesnít seem nearly as forced on the screen as it might on paper. Elmer Bernsteinís score is oppressive, but a strong, but not overbearing sense of atmosphere compensates.

While The Rainmaker is the most involving movie Coppola has made in years, one still feels cheated. It lacks the power of The Godfather, the intelligence of The Conversation or the audacity of Apocalypse Now. Nonetheless, if he can make a seemingly stale David and Goliath story engaging, he may still have a few miracles left (PG-13). Rating: 7.


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This page was last updated on 11/21/97.
Ó 1997 Dan Lybarger



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