The Rainmaker (1997) starring Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Dean Stockwell, Teresa Wright, Virginia Madsen, Mickey Rourke, Roy Scheider directed by Francis Ford Coppola Movie Review

The Rainmaker (1997)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Matt Damon as Rudy Baylor in The Rainmaker

Damon's Courtroom Supremacy

Its been a long time since I read John Grisham's "The Rainmaker" and having recently watched Francis Ford Coppola's big screen adaptation I honestly couldn't remember enough to say whether it's a faithful adaptation. But it is an interesting adaptation as what Coppola does is turn this legal drama into a character examination a look at a young lawyer, taking on a case bigger than most lawyers will see in their life time and how it affects him, how his feelings about the law change and what it starts to turn him into. Now that side of "The Rainmaker" works and with a strong performance from a young looking Matt Damon it is extremely watch able. But here is the thing there are elements to "The Rainmaker", the occasional jokey nature and a romantic subplot which end up feeling wrong as they detract from what could have been both an excellent character examination and a powerful legal drama.

Having just completed law school young Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon - Invictus) finds himself facing the court case of a life time. When a major insurance company refuses to pay out a claim for care from a young man with leukaemia, Rudy finds himself hired to represent them. Being fresh to the courtroom Rudy finds himself in a battle with seasoned legal professionals who think they can out smart this naive young man. But that is not the only problem as his employer Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke - Wild Orchid) is being investigated by the FBI and he finds himself falling for Kelly Riker (Claire Danes - Little Women) who he meets in hospital when she is beaten by her husband.

Jon Voight as Leo F. Drummond in The Rainmaker

As you would expect having been adapted from a John Grisham novel "The Rainmaker" is a legal drama but rather than just focussing on the twists and turns of the legal drama Coppola turns it into an interesting character examination of young lawyer Rudy Baylor's baptism of fire into the world of the courtroom as he takes on a huge insurance company who are not paying out on claims. Coppola uses standard techniques such as plenty of narration from Rudy to explain not only why he became a lawyer but also how he came to end up working for a law firm run by the shady, shark like Bruiser who encouraged him to ambulance chase. It maybe standard but it works because it helps build up this character of the optimistic lawyer who has slogged to get where he is and as the story progresses with him getting more and more involved in bringing down the insurance company we watch as his character grows and changes, his own beliefs of what is right and wrong pushed to their limits. And so by the time "The Rainmaker" comes to it's expected spectacular climax we have watched Rudy change as his eyes having been opened up to the seedy side of being a lawyer.

And whilst we have this character examination of a young optimistic lawyer we also get the legal drama and the court case against the insurance company. Yes there is something rather familiar about a lawyer trying to bring a billion dollar company to justice but Coppola manages to make it thrilling and emotional. The courtroom battles as the wet behind the ears Rudy finding himself up against a greater legal mind really helps to draw us in, in a very underdog sort of the way. And the whole digging around for evidence adds to the level of intrigue as we discover the insurance company has silenced critical people to cover up their scam. Yet at the same time there is an emotional side to it as Rudy becomes close to his clients especially leukaemia suffering Donny Ray Black and his family giving us the poignant and powerful closing statements. In a way it is all very familiar but the way the legal side twists and turns draws us in to the heart of the case and works well with the character exploration side of the movie, helping to develop Rudy's character.

Now if that had been all there was then "The Rainmaker" would have been a very good movie but there is also a romantic subplot which ends up a bit of a distraction. The whole storyline about Rudy meeting Kelly Riker in hospital as he is trying to drum up cases and subsequently falling in love with her, helping her to leave her abusive husband feels wrong. It doesn't connect to the main case and whilst aiding in creating this young lawyer who is very caring seems as almost padding, overly focussed on when in reality it should have taken a back seat. And having being overly focussed on then strangely gets a rushed and somewhat unbelievable ending.

The other issue I have with "The Rainmaker" is the mismatch of styles or at least a mismatch of styles which don't fit right in the world of a legal drama. Coppola tries to give elements of the story a jokey nature such as Rudy finding employment working for the shark like Bruiser, but it feels forced and a little over the top. The same can be said of the scenes which focus on Danny DeVito's Deck Shifflet showing Rudy the ropes, the jokey cynical nature of Deck is just too forced. And because it feels forced, because every humorous moment is over played it feels out of place, jarring with the dramatic and emotional side of the story. to be honest "The Rainmaker" did need a lighter side to stop it from being one level and ending up heavy but sadly Coppola goes too far and by forcing those lighter moments ends up spoiling things.

Because "The Rainmaker" is best when it is focusing on the character of Rudy and his baptism of fire you have to say that Matt Damon does a very good job. He delivers that wet behind the ears aspect beautifully and those scenes where his courtroom inexperience is shown the level of embarrassment is spot on. And to be honest Damon works well with all the cast especially Danny DeVito who is perfectly cast as his cynical partner, although whilst I love DeVito doing comedy it does end up being too forced. At the same time Damon works well with Claire Danes as Kelly Riker and you do hook into their whole relationship thing thanks to a nice level of vulnerability from Danes but as already mentioned the whole romantic subplot ends up detracting from the main story.

What this all boils down to is that "The Rainmaker" is an enjoyable adaptation of John Grisham's novel and works well as a character exploration rather than just being a courtroom drama. But the forced nature of the lighter moments and the romantic subplot seem to distract from the main legal drama end up spoiling things, causing "The Rainmaker" to end up entertaining but average.

Tags: John Grisham