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!
Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo is a quietly powerful film with two absolutely astonishing performances from its leads. Bahrani, who also directed the excellent Chop Shop, Man Push Cart, and the underrated At Any Price, currently has a new film out in limited release called 99 Homes, which centers on the financial crisis and home mortgage disaster of 2008. He’s interested in social commentary and human-scaled dramas which can thematically speak to anyone, a naturalist filmmaker with a style similar to Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves), utilizing a deliberately slow pace, simple but effective camera set ups, limited artificial musical score, a noticeable lack of showy lighting techniques, all in an effort to achieve slow-burn and honest to the core dramatics. Goodbye Solo is about a North Carolina cab driver named Solo (the amazing Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant, whose girlfriend is about to have a baby. One day, an old, sad looking man named William (Red West, incredible) gets in his cab and makes him an ominous offer: In one week, for $1000 cash, Solo will drive William to the highest point at a nearby mountain range, drop him off, and never look back. What develops over that week is an unlikely but exceptionally moving friendship between the two vastly different men. Bahrani’s emotionally taxing screenplay gives West and Savane some powerful scenes to play off of each other, with a finale that is perfectly understated but deeply felt. I was taken back by the honest and natural performances of both West and Savane, and probably because I wasn’t familiar with them before seeing the film, I was able to become invested in a way that might not have occurred had more baggage-laden talent been given the two roles. West is a guy who has been doing bit parts in movies for years (his personal story is fascinating…do a google search…) and he’s got one of those made-for-the-cinema faces that dispenses with back-story without the necessity for words. It’s a face that’s seen too much throughout the years, and because of West’s grizzled look and feel, he brings a level of intensity to William that remains present throughout the entire picture. Savane is the perfect antidote to West’s hardness; Solo could give Happy-Go-Lucky’s Poppy Montgomery a run for her money in the eternally optimistic sweepstakes. Always trying to help, always thinking with his heart (when sometimes he should be thinking more with his head), Solo is determined not to let William do himself in, even if it means sacrificing things that he holds dear. Bahrani was hailed by the late Roger Ebert as “America’s next great filmmaker” and it’s not hard to see why. He’s been making important, under the radar work for years now, and it’s time that he gets the full-on attention he deserves. If you’re not familiar with his work, I urge you to get acquainted. Goodbye Solo is a great film, one that will make you think long after you’ve finished watching.