Turn Back the Clock
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Iíve read five of John Grishamís earliest works and of those five legal dramas, four have been adapted to film. Of those four, only two have been adapted to my satisfaction: A Time to Kill and The Rainmaker. Both movies were so well done that Iíve watched them a number of times already. When I had the opportunity to replace my VHS version of The Rainmaker with a DVD version of the film, I jumped on it. Of course, that meant I simply had to watch the movie again.
The Rainmaker stars Matt Dillon as Rudy Baylor, a young man who has just completed law school and is preparing t take the Bar exam. Working his way through law school by bartending, Rudy hasnít made as many legal connections as his more affluent classmates. He settles for working for J. Lyman ďBruiserĒ Stone (Mickey Rourke), a connection he has made through a regular bar patron. Bruiser may have an unfortunate nickname, but he is a rather successful personal injury attorney and Rudy needs a way into the legal profession. He brings along with him the cases he has been working on at the legal clinic, including a last will and testament preparation for a widow and an insurance case regarding a claim denial for a procedure that could potentially save a dying young manís life.
Bruiser pairs Rudy with Deck Shifflet (Danny Devito), a six-time bar flunky who helps drum up business for Bruiser through ambulance chasing. Deck is assigned to help Rudy with his current case load and to show him how to sign up new clients. On one such ambulance chasing foray, Rudy meets Kelly Riker (Cameron Diaz), a spousal abuse victim. Rudy is supposed to persuade her to take him on as her lawyer, but Rudy has a problem. He relates too well with the case, having come from a home where his alcoholic father repeatedly physically abused his mother. As with all of the cases he has signed up, Rudy finds himself becoming personally and emotionally involved with his client.
Meanwhile, Rudy is about to go head to head with Great Benefit, the insurance company who has been denying Donny Ray Blackís insurance claim for a much needed bone marrow transplant. On the day the two sides are to meet, Bruiser, sought after for money laundering and racketeering charges, mysteriously disappears, leaving Rudy holding the bag. Having only recently passed the Bar exam, Rudy is shocked to discover he is now the leading attorney on the case. Great Benefitís legal team, led by Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), is more than happy to let Rudy proceed, thinking he is an easy mark, but Leo Drummond and Great Benefit are about to learn something from Rudy Baylor - never underestimate the little guy.
The Rainmaker is your typical underdog versus the big conglomerate film. Rudy Baylor is a wet-behind-the-ears, just appointed attorney with no experience called on to face off against veteran lawyers with the backing of a huge corporation. His clients canít afford legal fees and canít fight on their own. Therefore, they are also the underdogs in this film. The odds of winning each battle Rudy Baylor takes on are extremely low, but his youth and inexperience have their advantages - Rudy is unwilling to back down from a fight, refusing to believe he canít win when fighting on the side of righteousness. His caring nature and ethical standpoint endear us to his cause and keep the audience rooting in his favor. In a fight of good versus evil, we will always root for the good.
Matt Damon is thoroughly believable as a rookie lawyer willing to fight for anyone who canít fight for themselves. His biggest flaw is his inability to separate his clients from his personal life, becoming personally involved in every case he takes on. While we understand this is a flaw, it also serves to endear us to the character. Danny Devito provides quite a few comedic moments as well as showing us some of the sleazier sides of personal injury law. Kelly Riker is one of Cameron Diazís earliest roles and while you feel sorry for her in a way, I somehow developed a dislike for the weakness of her character.
Jon Voight is particularly despicable in his role as the pompous lead attorney for Great Benefit. This marks the first time I ever saw Roy Scheider portraying a villain role and believe me, he is good at it. He appears only briefly as Wilfred Keeley, CEO of Great Benefit, yet you instantly hat his pompous attitude toward the Black family and their plight. Honorable mentions go to Mary Kay Place as Dot Black, a grieving mother set on avenging the unlawful death of her son at the hands of Great Benefit; Johnny Whitworth as Donny Ray Black; and Virginia Madsen as Jackie Lemancyzk, a former Great Benefit employee turned witness for the plaintiff. Presented as a flawed heroine trying to aide the Black family in their lawsuit while also sticking it to her former employer, who couldnít help rooting for her?
The Rainmaker DVD contains a limited amount of special features. The most notable on the list are the deleted scenes which feature an extended opening and a rather interesting alternate ending.
Francis Ford Coppolaís version of John Grishamís The Rainmaker works for me, despite a variety of differences between the film version and the novel. I understand the reasoning behind changing certain scenes from the novel to fit the film and leaving certain things out in the interest of saving time and speeding things along. I found this version of the story to be just as enjoyable as the novel and just as infuriating. Even though this film was released in 1997, after watching this film again, I realize how relevant it is to the present. Insurance companies are still denying relevant claims and their defense is always warning of socialized health care.
The Rainmaker is an incredibly poignant court room drama relevant to any time. The acting is excellent, the storyline and its subplots are thought-provoking and the presentation is captivating. This is a film I have enjoyed watching again and again and intend to enjoy viewing many more times in the future.