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MRQE Top Critic

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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You never know what to expect from Coppola: sometimes you get a great film and sometimes you get Jack. The Rainmaker is an above-average courtroom drama. It is a good, solid, well-made movie. It’s no classic, but it’s worth seeing.

This is the sixth big-screen adaptation of a John Grisham novel. In this outing, the young Memphis lawyer is Rudy Baylor, played by Matt Damon. Rudy is just out of law school and looking for work. He finds it in the shady law office of “Bruiser” Stone (that’s Mickey Rourke, believe it or not) who’s under investigation by the FBI.

Bruiser agrees to hire Rudy on the condition that he recruit his own clients. Rudy just happens to have two cases that he landed from a school open-house event. One of the cases turns out to be big; a leukemia patient, Donnie Ray Black (Johnnie Whitworth) and his mother file a lawsuit against a crooked insurance company for denying their legitimate claim.

One night Rudy and his legal assistant Deck Shiffler (Danny DeVito) discuss their future with Bruiser’s law firm. They decide that the FBI is getting too serious and that the heat will be too great at Bruiser’s offices, so they take their cases and leave the firm, just in the nick of time. Now on their own, they bring Great Benefit Insurance and its five lawyers to court. In the outstanding performance of the movie, Jon Voight is Leo Drummond, the high-paid, slick, confident power lawyer of the defense team. Coppola gave Drummond enough smarts and clout to match Voight’s performance. The role could have easily been under-written and over-played, but the actor and the role were tailored to suit each other.

Most of the movie follows the specifics of the court case from beginning to end, and that in itself is an interesting twist. Seems like most so-called courtroom dramas dedicate lots of screen time to the crime and the out-of-court implications; then they end with a big climax in the courtroom. The Rainmaker actually follows the courtroom story for most of the movie.

But there are subplots. In an inept attempt at ambulance-chasing, Rudy meets and falls for Kelly Riker (the sweet, likeable Claire Danes) who is the victim of spousal abuse. Another subplot involves Rudy’s other case, an old woman, his landlord (Teresa Wright), who wants to rewrite her will to exclude family and include a Texas televangelist.

These subplots really were subservient to the main story line. Though they were interwoven, they existed separately. They never really touched on the main plot. They added a nice texture to the movie, but I often felt the cross-cutting was labored and unmotivated.

Also, I question the intent of making Kelly the victim of abuse. The way the movie dealt with her husband was to violently hate him, much the same way the movie made you feel about the insurance company. All of Rudy’s dialogue regarding Kelly’s husband is talk of murderous revenge. I suppose in that way, this movie is similar to Starship Troopers, which takes pleasure in the extermination of its villains. But where the hatred in Starship Troopers was ironic and distanced, in The Rainmaker it is “righteous.” I think that’s probably worse for society. (Is this a trend in movies of the late nineties — to make the audience feel good about killing? Are they sating our demand for public executions?)

Still, these scenes didn’t detract from the experience; they played a small enough part, and they fit in with the movie’s overall feel.

If there was anything that was wrong with The Rainmaker, it was that the movie’s conflict was too easy. The insurance company was too cruel and the victims too sympathetic for there to be any question of the outcome. The movie left no room for any real debate on health care, insurance, or tort reform. For example, a memo from the insurance company was written by an employee having a bad day. The letter calls the claimant “stupid, stupid, stupid.” If that weren’t enough, the letter is read aloud about four times in the movie, and at one point, it fills the movie screen.

That’s not to say that the movie wasn’t satisfying — what could be more satisfying than the defeat of a melodramatic villain? But it means you won’t want to see the movie more than once, and you probably won’t remember it in five years.

But for here and now, it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. It’s a solid, well-made courtroom drama that actually spends a lot of time in court.