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The Rainmaker (1997)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/24/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/15/2007

At times, I feel that my tastes in entertainment run perpendicular to those of most Americans. For example, despite the fact that John Grisham is one of the best-selling authors in recent history, I've never read one of his books. And I've only seen two movies based on his novels (one was a DVD that I reviewed, and the other was Christmas with the Kranks, which probably doesn't even count). It's not that I have any aversion to Grisham's work, it's just that I've never gone out of my way to absorb it. Thus, I was interested to see Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Grisham's The Rainmaker.

The Rainmaker tells the story of Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), a young law-student who has just finished his final year. He's had to work his way through school and after years of working in a bar, he's desperate for a job. So, he takes a job with J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), a shady attorney who has a questionable reputation. Stone gives Rudy a position where he will have to bring in his own clients, and asks Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a man who has failed the Bar Exam six times, to take Rudy under his wing. while assisting Deck with rounding up clients in the hospital, Rudy meets Kelly Riker (Claire Danes), a young woman who has been severely beaten by her husband. Rudy initially approaches Kelly to attempt to become her divorce lawyer, but he soon finds that he has feeling for her.

Rudy comes to Stone with a case which he picked up at a free counsel clinic. It involves the Black family. Young Donny Ray Black (Johnny Whitworth) has been diagnosed with leukemia and his medical insurance company has denied his claim. Thus, his mother, Dot (Mary Kay Place), has sought the advice of an attorney. When the case ultimately goes to trial, Rudy finds himself presenting in the court room for the very first time and going up against high-powered lawyer, Leo Drummond (Jon Voight). What can a young attorney do against a multi-million dollar insurance company?

According to IMDB.com (which of course, isn't the most reliable place on Earth), of all of the adaptations of his novels, The Rainmaker is John Grisham's favorite. Again, I've never read a Grisham book, and I've now only seen three of the movies, but I find this a surprising statement, as I thought that the movie was rather mediocre. At it's core, The Rainmaker is a solid film, as it has an Oscar-winning director at the helm, and a very strong cast, but for everything that it does right, it also does some things wrong.

As is noted in the extra features section of this review, the Coppola took the original opening of the film, which totaled 13 minutes, and whittled it down to 2 minutes. Because of this, the Rudy Baylor character becomes somewhat of an enigma. While I thought that he took the job with Bruiser because he was down on his luck, my wife assumed that he took it because he was sleazy ala Bruiser and wanted to make a fast buck. (The extended opening reveals that my interpretation was correct.) From that point on, Rudy is a strong character and is a solid keystone for the film. But, the plot built around him, from Coppola's screenplay, is shaky at times.

Apparently, Coppola was taken with the novel and attempts to juggle several subplots. Along with the main story of the cast against the insurance company, we also Rudy working on the will of his landlady and Rudy's relationship with Kelly. In the first half of the film, as the story is building steam, these subplots don't seem overwhelmingly necessary, but they aren't distracting. (And Coppola actually cut another subplot involving Bruiser.) But, once the trial begins, Coppola makes the mistake of cutting away from it to show Rudy dealing with other things. The point here is to show all of the pressure under which Rudy is. This is an admirable cause, and most likely plays well in the novel, but in the film, it robs the trial of its urgency and suspense. Some of the courtroom scenes play well, but many pale in comparison to other trial movies which I've seen.

There are some movies which can squeak by on their pedigree and The Rainmaker is certainly one of those. The film contains a stellar cast and while the courtroom scenes are somewhat tepid at times, watching Matt Damon go up against Jon Voight is a treat. And yet, if you just happened to catch this movie, you probably wouldn't think, "Hey, this must have been directed by one of America's most renowned filmmakers." The Rainmaker has an interesting story, which, in the time of Michael Moore's Sicko, is still relevant today, but the film never does anything to distinguish itself from others in its genre.

The Rainmaker asks for a continuance on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This new DVD replaces Paramount's original DVD release of the film from November, 1998. Unlike many re-releases that I've seen, the transfer here looks fairly good. The image is sharp and clear, showing very little grain and only one defect from the source material, which is a hair on the bottom of the frame at the 2:06:00 mark. The colors look fine, and in the scenes where Coppola isn't afraid to let things get a little dark, the action is always visible. There is some artifacting at times, and there's a moment where a character is standing in front of a window with blinds which results in a great deal of video noise. So, all-in-all, a good transfer. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While the all-important dialogue comes through nicely, there isn't much in the way of stereo or surround effects, save for some musical cues or crowd noises. And there certainly wasn't any memorable subwoofer action.

The Rainmaker DVD has a few extras. "Watch The Rainmaker with Francis Coppola" opens with the director giving a four-minute introduction, which then segues into an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Coppola and Danny DeVito. This is a somewhat dull commentary as Coppola and DeVito comment very sparingly and when they do, it's seldom anything life-changing. "Francis Coppola Directs John Grisham's The Rainmaker" is a 27-minute featurette from 1997 which features comments from cast and crew, and from Grisham himself, as well as a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage. Here, we learn some of the creative ways in which Coppola motivates his actors. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES, the first of which is the original 13-minute opening of the film, which was then condensed to a little over two minutes. This sequence sheds a great deal of light on who Rudy really is as a character. Two of the scenes are throwaway, while the extended ending is simply odd. The extras are rounded out by "The Rainmaker Screen Tests" which feature video of Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Mary Kay Place, and Virginia Madsen preparing for their roles.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long