Coppola Masterful With Grisham’s ‘Rainmaker’

In his screen adaptation of “The Rainmaker,” Francis Ford Coppola has brought a fresh element to John Grisham’s patented brand of legal potboilers a healthy dose of humor.

The result is the most satisfying Grisham picture to date. “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” (the official title) is thoroughly entertaining, character-driven fare boasting a sparkling “cast of thousands,” crisp pacing and a visual luster that conjures up the classic Hollywood courtroom dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Coppola clearly has fun with the satirical potential of Grisham’s portrait of the seamy underbelly of the legal profession but never at the expense of the involving story lines.

Matt Damon registers a career-making performance as Rudy Baylor, the wet-behind-the-ears law school grad who is world-weary enough to know that one individual can’t really make a difference but is still idealistic enough to try.

Willing to work his way up from the bottom, Rudy starts pretty much at that level when he’s hired on by the enigmatic and flamboyant Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke in his best role in a long time), a not-exactly-by-the-books lawyer who operates out of a seedy Memphis strip mall.

He quickly learns the greasy ropes from scrappy underdog Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a self-described “paralawyer” who doesn’t let the fact that he’s failed his bar exam six times interfere with his ambulance chasing.

Rudy gets a shot at the big leagues when he convinces Dot Black (Mary Kay Place in an Oscar-worthy turn), a mother whose son is dying of leukemia, to take on the giant insurance company that refused to pay their claim. Meanwhile, he also finds himself in just a little over his head when he comes to the aid of a gentle, abused wife (the always impressive Claire Danes).

The terrific performances just keep on coming. In addition to all of the above, there’s Jon Voight (logging the best of his five screen appearances this year) as Damon’s dapper shark of a legal adversary, a powerful Goliath to his young but determined David; screen legend Teresa Wright as Damon’s landlady and first client, the colorful Miss Birdie; Danny Glover as the sympathetic but even-handed judge who is also trying his first case; and, in a clever bit of against-the-grain casting, “Melrose Place” regular Andrew Shue as Danes’ convincingly dangerous husband.

Coppola handles both writing and direction with masterful aplomb, and although the herky-jerky pacing and first-person voice-overat first feel somewhat distancing and intrusive, they ultimately both serve as an integral part of the picture’s irreverent charm.

xxxx “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” Location: Lyons, Spokane Valley Mall, Coeur d’Alene Credits: Directed by and screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Mary Kay Place, Mickey Rourke, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Virginia Madsen, Roy Scheider, Teresa Wright, Dean Stockwell, Andrew Shue, Johnny Whitworth Running time: 2:17 Rating: PG-13

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