Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, Mary Kay Place, Danny Glover, Teresa Wright, Mickey Rourke, Dean Stockwell, Virginia Madsen, Roy Scheider
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, based on a novel by John Grisham
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a strong beating and elements of domestic abuse
Running Time: 135
Date: 11/18/1997
IMDB

The Rainmaker (1997)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The 'Rain' People

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The last time Francis Ford Coppola adapted a novel by a pulp writer and cast a fresh-faced unknown in the lead, he came up with The Godfather. Based on lawyer-fiction writer John Grisham's novel, his new film The Rainmaker is nowhere near the excellence of the earlier film. It's more along the lines of the glowing, optimistic, yet satisfying Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Doughy, square-jawed Matt Damon plays the lead young Grisham-lawyer character, who cares more about the law than making money or getting ahead (a purely fictional creature, like a Pegasus). Damon is effective in his performance, and he is attractive, but, like 1996's short-lived phenomenon Matthew McConaughey, he has no personality, no star-quality. Our gaze slides right off his face like a freshly waxed car. There are no crags or interesting features to stick to (River Phoenix had it, Johnny Depp and maybe Edward Norton or Keanu Reeves have it). But, perhaps that is what Coppola had in mind for the part -- unscathed innocence. Coppola himself has a good idea what years of Hollywood life will do to a man.

The Rainmaker is easily the best of the Grisham movies so far, and it has touches of excellence, but it's a routine work. Damon spends his time crusading against an evil insurance company and the evil lawyers (easy targets) they've hired to represent them. A mother (Mary Kay Place) has faithfully paid the premiums, but the company will not pay for the bone marrow transplant that will save her son's life. At the same time, a young wife (Claire Danes), is being slowly beaten to death by her psychopath husband. Damon has his hands full trying to help everyone.

The movie has many small plotlines, and several of them dangle off into space. Characters are introduced that may have played a larger role in the 900 page book, but seem to do nothing here. Whole sequences are played out for little or no payoff.

The strong supporting cast saves the movie. Danny DeVito is wonderful as Damon's misfit partner, who has flunked the Bar exam six times. DeVito is a great comic actor, who is physically unafraid of his own body or the camera. He loves to fuss and fidget and sweat. He (as well as all the other actors) has a great role that allows him to truly act, and fill a small space with great things. Danny Glover plays the judge, who seems to be enjoying every single second of his job and his power. Place is excellent as the smoking mother who spits venom through her tears. Virginia Madsen is a surprise witness at the end of her rope. A nearly unrecognizable Mickey Rourke, appears for only a few moments as perhaps the slimiest lawyer ever put on screen. Jon Voight is the purely evil bad guy lawyer, and Roy Schieder is the slippery CEO who hired him. Country singer Randy Travis plays an irate juror.

The Rainmaker is a fun, easygoing movie that might lull one into a sense of enjoyment, but it lacks the sense of enthusiasm or dignity of earlier Coppola works.