Film Scouts Reviews

"The Rainmaker"

by Karen Jaehne

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Anybody who has ever wrangled with an insurance company and realized they hold the power of life and death - yours - in their tight little fists will appreciate this story. Coppola has made an appealing, intelligent and dignified film out of the galloping best-seller syndrome that has hit John Grisham's writing. Coppola's screenplay is witty without being smart-ass, informative without being didactic, and humane without jerking tears.

Matt Damon is Rudy Baylor, fresh out of law school with just enough dumb luck to join a sleazoid firm of ambulance chasers like Danny DeVito. The boy's first case is a suit brought by the mother of a leukemia victim against a mammoth insurance company. Jon Voigt is superb as a craven attorney so very eager to defend his evil behemoth client. The grand moral moment in the film occurs when Rudy looks across the table and asks his opponent, "You don't even remember when you sold out, do you?"

Selling out is still a bad thing in Coppola's book. And that's a good thing. It's too bad it's not a bad thing for other people who have had experiences similar to Coppola's - i.e., cutting your teeth as an artist, succeeding, selling out, failing - and finding your way back to the values respected by most artists. The most fascinating thoughts through this film are to think of it as a parable for the movie business, because after all, who doesn't know that insurance companies are the biggest crooks on the block? Hitler could run one, and nobody would notice.

The Rainmaker is the most successful adaptation of Grisham's work thus far, primarily because Coppola gives the impression of caring about his characters. They are little people whom he doesn't try to inflate or pump up with that kind of pseudo-heroism that people who live in limos often bring to stories about people who don't have agents. (They're either vacantly glamorous - Michelle Pfeiffer - or laboriously working class - Holly Hunter). Coppola even manages to reign in Danny DeVito from the overcompensation for elfdom that marks his performances. Here he is exuberant and goofy but not unlikeable, and we need a character like him who seems to have learned the law from TV.

I believe the unerring sense of character owes as much to smart casting as to accomplished directing. The Rainmaker sports a highly unusual credit, which goes to a producer who has seen Coppola through three decades of filmmaking - Fred Roos. Roos is a savvy, soulful man who spent a lifetime in the service of good filmmaking. Whatever he "executed" here in the way of casting is up to his usual standard of excellence.

Even with no pyrotechnics, this film will surely go down as one of Coppola's most insightful and best-directed pictures and will hold up even if the insurance business ever gets honest or responsible.  

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