Tag Archives: courtroom drama

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker is one of those journeyman courtroom dramas that’s isn’t all flash, sizzle and spectacle. There are those things periodically and in the obligatory final flourish but this is more a piece that shows the dutiful, unsung labour that goes into putting a deposition together, the many hours of stress involved in taking on a class action lawsuit and for once, a quality I admired, focuses more so on the victims who are suing rather than the lawyers themselves in terms of character. Based on a John Grisham novel and directed by a fellow you may have heard of called Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Matt Damon in a humble, restrained turn as rookie lawyer Rudy Baylor, riding on the coattails of amoral hustler guru Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke) and backed up by perennial sidekick Deck Shiffler (Danny Devito). Stone’s firm (if you can call it that) is an unabashed ambulance chasing racket until Rudy stumbles into some genuine high stakes cases that matter, namely a lawsuit against an insurance giant for denying treatment to a boy (Johnny Whitworth) dying of leukaemia. This puts Rudy and Deck up against a top dollar team of legal talent led by preening shark Jon Voight, the kind of soulless muckraker who gets ruffled at the very mention of the fact he’s sold out to the wrong side. Also along for the ride is battered housewife Claire Danes, whom Rudy takes a liking to and wishes to protect against her monster of a husband. It’s a fairly sprawling tale with an impressive amount of characters all juggled handsomely, not to mention a dense narrative that is somehow delivered to us breezily and coherently. But character is key here and ultimately wins the day; DeVito is terrific as the chow mein guzzling little curmudgeon who initially comes across as a sleaze but quietly, ever so subtly peels back a hidden and unobtrusive later of compassion as the story draws you, and him in. Rourke is priceless, chain-smoking, chewing dialogue and literally walking out of the film a third of the way through to some tropical beach where he delivers key information over the phone before returning to his all your can drink margaritas. Voight is cold, steely and blusters without getting hammy, something he’s always somehow been able to tightrope pretty damn well. Danny Glover is great as a sneakily idealistic judge, Dean Stockwell as a short lived and quite cantankerous one and watch for vivid supporting turns from Mary Kay Place, Teresa Wright, Red West, Randy Travis, Roy Scheider as the leathery, evil insurance CEO and a scene owning Virginia Madsen as a terrified whistleblower. I greatly enjoyed this because although it’s a big budget, star studded Hollywood courtroom drama, it takes its time, is leisurely paced, lived in, meticulous about character development, sincerely cares and has compassion for the humans who are scared and hurting within its narrative and tells several interwoven stories, all well worth your time and attention. Great film!

-Nate Hill

Michael Apted’s Class Action

A father/daughter courtroom drama starring Gene Hackman sounds like a recipe for something glossy, showboating and melodramatic, but Michael Apted’s Class Action gives us a mature, emotionally potent and very character driven film that one wouldn’t expect from the slightly sensationalistic trailers. Hackman is a San Francisco attorney who takes on the prosecution of an auto manufacturing giant with a line of suspicious exploding cars. Opposite him as defence for the corporation? His own daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), with whom he has a rocky history with. He’s a philandering hard ass who was never pleased with her and she blames him for the dissent in her family from his womanizing ways years before. The case itself serves as framework for for the very real, raw interpersonal drama that unfolds between them, and their relationship feels grounded and truthful. The key scene is them together in the kitchen cooking; idle small talk leads to harshly flung accusations, emotions are laid bare and by the time the argument reaches a screaming fever pitch, both are quaking with rage, self reflection and sad regret. It’s a powerful scene of performance from both actors, and you’ll scarce breathe for the duration. Hackman is fire and brimstone as per usual, but there’s also a wounded aspect I’ve never seen in him before, something brought out by Mastrantonio who is spectacular in her calmly devastating turn. The late Donald Moffat is great as her steely firm boss, a man governed by fierce logic who has no qualms in casually covering up key evidence. Fred Dalton Thompson is nicely slimy as the reprehensible auto CEO whose soulless disregard for human life is unsettling, Jan Rubes steals his scenes as a loopy ex engineer with ties to the auto giant and Laurence Fishburne (during his ‘Larry’ days) quietly plays Hackman’s firm partner and family friend. I wouldn’t have probably ever known about this film if I hadn’t have come across it in a thrift store, and I’m glad I did. Forgotten these days it seems, it’s now one of my favourite courtroom pieces out there, for letting the characters tell this story, for making it personal and for flowing through the beats organically. The stately San Francisco architecture and melodic score by James Horner give it a personality as well, but Hackman and Mastrantonio rule the roost and probably give their career bests. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill