John Grisham's The Rainmaker

on November 21, 1997 by Melissa Morrison
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Francis Ford Coppola draws "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" with comic-book subtlety--Danny DeVito and Mickey Rourke play ambulance-chasing lawyer types, need you know more? The result (all two-plus hours of it) is a big, buttery popcorn bucket of a movie: not particularly nutritious, but wholly delicious.
   "Rainmaker" is the latest in a conveyer belt of legal thrillers based on Grisham's books. Unlike its predecessors ("The Firm," "The Pelican Brief," etc.), this one has dropped the solemn self-regard in which they seemed to hold themselves--indeed, at times it's broadly comic--and added a mosaic of distinctive character parts (played memorably by, among others, Roy Scheider, Virginia Madsen, John Glover and Dean Stockwell).
   "Rainma ker" balances two separate stories, both elements in the life of Rudy (Matt Damon), a green Memphis lawyer. The primary one and the most involving is his prosecution of a rich insurance company that rejected the claims of a poor family whose son is dying of leukemia. Damon is a fine anchor, convincingly cracker but with the acting mettle to keep it from becoming affectation. Mary Kay Place plays the dying boy's mother and is a no-nonsense, but at times heartbreaking, presence. The insurance company is defended by Jon Voight's Leo Drummond; Voight's overfed-Pekinese features help make him a uniquely venal addition to the nasty-lawyer character archive.
   The second part of the story is less successful: Rudy's befriending of Kelly (Claire Danes), a battered young wife and, as written, utterly defenseless (there must be one women's shelter in Memphis). Her tormentor is so much a villain that the audience is never even allowed a good look at his face ("Melrose Place" pretty boy Andrew Shue). But wisely this plot part is minimized in favor the one that is more garish, more pitiful, and much more fun to watch. Starring Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Danny DeVito and Jon Voight. Directed and written by Francis Ford Coppola. Produced by Michael Douglas, Steven Reuther and Fred Fuchs. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for a strong beating and elements of domestic abuse. Running time: 137 minutes
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