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The RainmakerJohn Grisham's The Rainmaker

How do you take a relatively straightforward courtroom drama and make it a riveting experience? Give it to Francis Ford Coppola, who we'd argue couldn't make a bad movie if he tried.

Matt Damon stars in this adaptation of John Grisham's best seller, also written for the screen by Coppola. He's Rudy Baylor, an idealistic young lawyer fresh out of law school (he hasn't even written the bar exam yet), who goes to work for Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke) where, under the mentorship of chronic bar exam failure Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), he learns the "fine art" of chasing ambulances.

Ah, but one of these cases involves Big Capitalism, whose evil policies led to the eventual death of a young boy and the reneging on his family's insurance claim. It looks like the type of case that could be a "rainmaker," a case that causes money to fall from the sky.

Except for one thing: the defendant company has deep pockets and they can hire the very best. Not only that, but it appears to Baylor that the entire judicial system is stacked against him – judges and others all practically beg the wet behind the ears lawyer to take the first settlement offered rather than pursue the case into court.

Then there's his opponent, Big Time Lawyer Leo F. Drummond, played deliciously by Jon Voight. He knows the territory, and the system, and he can intimidate Baylor merely by showing up.

Well, you undoubtedly know where it's going: Baylor pursues the case doggedly through thick and thin, going for the Big Award from the jury – for which he'll get a third. He has the potential to go from Atticus Finch to John Edwards in one swell foop, but is he willing to sell his soul to do it or will he come out of the case with his idealism intact?

Along the way, Rudy also gets to help an abused wife (Claire Danes).

Naturally, this is just a quick and superficial look at a well-textured tale that works on many levels, just as you'd expect from a Coppola film. We know where it's going from the opening logos, but Coppola and cast make the journey extremely enjoyable.

There's a lot to recommend here. Damon is convincing as the new lawyer who's far out of his depth. DeVito, who we must confess to having never really liked, is outstanding here: as slimy and sleazy as you'd expect from a jaded lawyer who knows the system (but in this case, who just can't get past the bar exam). Voight has wonderful presence, and Coppola makes him fill the screen (while making Damon look ever so small and alone) as only he can. And the rest of the supporting cast includes some big names you might not expect to find in such relatively minor (though important) roles.

The Rainmaker has a lot in common with The Verdict, except that instead of the protagonist being a burned out drunk it's a newbie. But as good as The Verdict was (and as great as Paul Newman was in it), The Rainmaker comes off as a better, more enjoyable film.

Paramount's new Special Collector's Edition of the movie does it justice for the most part.

Firstly, we get a pristine anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks and sounds great, with rich color and a sharp and finely rendered image. Audio is Dolby Digital with no dts choice, alas, but the quality is just fine.

Then there are the extras, though there aren't enough of them for this to be one of the great "Collector's editions" ever release. First up is an introduction by Coppola himself, and he's always worth one's attention. And you can "watch" the movie "with Coppola" (without having to buy extra wine or munchies, or make room on your sofa!). There's also a decent documentary on the making of the movie, focusing on Coppola and his work (which seems appropriate), some deleted scenes and some screen tests.

John Grisham's The Rainmaker, from Paramount Home Entertainment
135 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Mickey Rourke, Mary Kay Place
Produced by Michael Douglas, Steven Reuther and Fred Fuchs
Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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