The Rainmaker


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Rainmaker
"Not typical Grisham, it is closer to autobiography than fiction."

There are too many lawyers in Memphis, Danny DeVito tells Matt Damon. There are too many lawyers everywhere. And not enough doctors. John Grisham was one before he gave up his day job. Now he makes more money exposing them. Irony Rules, OK?

Damon is the bright kid from an underprivileged background who can see, even at law school, the way things work. Without connections, it's going to be hard. Integrity isn't worth a banjo string to a horn player because corruption is an attitude that seeps into the body politic and talent is neither here nor there unless used to turn truth into something different.

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Gary Cooper used to play these parts, and James Stewart, the honest country boy who can't be bought. It is to the credit of writer/director Francis Coppola that the film does not become too self-satisfied. Purity is one thing, smugness quite another. Damon helps with a performance that never lets go of the fact that this law graduate is green to the gills. Unlike Tom Cruise in The Firm, he's bleeding in the shark pool, and knows it. DeVito, who energises charm so fast you can't detect the artifice, is an ex-salesman who keeps trying and failing to pass law exams. He's a genius at ambulance chasing and knows his way around the courts blindfold, although officially cannot speak in them. He works on a hand-to-pocket basis for Mickey Rourke, the scummiest attorney in town. When Damon joins - commission percentage only, no fee - and Rourke does a runner after the Feds get wind of his scams, they team up and open an office.

The story evolves organically from skint-no-clients to skint-one-client. Damon is incapable of not becoming involved with the people he tries to help, such as his widowed landlady (Teresa Wright), a battered wife (Claire Danes) and the family of a leukemia sufferer who is determined to expose the fraudulant practices of a rich and powerful insurance company. This case is at the centre of Damon's initiation.

Jon Voight plays the insurance company's man with the grace of a python and Virginia Madsen gives an arresting (no pun intended) performance as a surprise witness. Although the David and Goliath aspect of the courtroom drama is uppermost, it does not fill every space between law- student-waiting-tables and disillusioned idealist. Not typical Grisham, it is closer to autobiography than fiction. Coppola exploits this absence of criminal violence by evoking a genuine feel for Memphis and sympathy for a young man's attempt at doing good.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A young lawyer with high ideals takes on a corrupt insurance firm.
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Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writer: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Mary Kay Place, Dean Stockwell, Teresa Wright, Virginia Madsen, Mickey Rourke, Andrew Shue, Red West

Year: 1997

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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