Retro Film Review: The Rainmaker (1997)

in #aaa2 months ago


Most of the films based on John Grisham's novels employed simple formula - young, penniless, inexperienced and handsome lawyer fighting the good fight against powerful and malevolent entities like US government, mafia or rich corporations. Being formulaic and predictable, all those films usually turned into huge disappointments. But with the right man in the director's chair even the formulaic material can be almost magically transformed into something original and refreshing. In case 1997 thriller The Rainmaker such director was Francis Ford Coppola.

Protagonist of the film is Rudy Baylor (played by Matt Damon), young man who spent all his money on law school and now has to work as a waiter to make ends meet. Something resembling real job is found in the shady law firm owned by "Bruiser" Stone (played by Mickey Rourke). Baylor's first task is the case of Donny Ray Black (played by Johnny Whitworth), young man who is dying of leukaemia while the rich insurance company refuses to cover expenses of life-saving bone marrow transplant. While preparing for the case with his "para-lawyer" mentor Deck Shifflet (played by Danny De Vito), Baylor is cruising hospitals in order to gain "ambulance chasing" skills. In one of those hospitals Baylor meets Kelly Ryker (played by Claire Danes), young and beautiful woman who is being physically abused by her husband. In the meantime, Donny Ray Black dies and his mother Dot (played by Mary Kay Place) files wrongful death lawsuit against insurance company. Baylor's chances to win that case are very slim, because insurance company can afford the best legal help available and that help comes in the form of Leo F. Drummond (played by Jon Voight), rich, influential, scruples and very efficient lawyer.

The Rainmaker is better than most of film based on John Grisham's work and that is for one simple reason. The plot doesn't involve mafia or government conspiracies and instead of that deals with the issues most of people in the audience can relate to. Another important thing about The Rainmaker is that the court case in question belongs to the realms of civil rather than criminal law (just like 99 % of all court cases in real life). Because of that, it is easy for audience to suspend its disbelief, even when Grisham populates the plot with many colourful and larger-than-life characters. Coppola and his co-writer Michael Herr manage to make those characters both believable and interesting, just like they are able to present some less fashionable and more prosaic aspects of legal profession - wills and ambulance chasing - in interesting way. All this is wonderful opportunity for many good character actors to display their skills, especially Danny De Vito who easily outshines bland Matt Damon.

The Rainmaker has plenty of substance in itself, but at times it gives impression of being little bit overlong. This is especially evident with the Kelly Ryker subplot, which could have been easily edited out of the film. The finale also looks a little bit forced, although it isn't traditional Hollywood happy ending. Although far from being classic and although Coppola had much better films in his resume, The Rainmaker is good example of talented filmmaker making small miracle out of film that was destined for drowning in mediocrity.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 7th 2004)

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Critic: AA