John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker,” a novel and now a movie by Francis Ford Copolla. It is the sixth novel to film adaptation of Grisham’s novels and is by far one of the more accomplished. The courtroom drama reveals the ordeals of a young lawyer and associate entering the world of money hungry company’s scams. “They were totally unqualified to try the case of a life time, but every underdog has his day” Let’s talk about silk purses and sow’s ears. Let’s talk about John Grisham’s The Rainmaker. Or, as the movie company would have it, John Grisham’s The Rainmaker. That’s the official title of the film Francis Ford Coppola has made from Mr. Grisham’s best-selling novel.
Thankfully, John Grisham’s The Rainmaker is a better movie than Mr. Grisham’s tension-challenged novel. Mr. Coppola may be doing this for the payday (in order to finance his next original film), but he manages to elevate Mr. Grisham’s overblown story into a passably entertaining courtroom drama which, unlike the book, actually has some drama. The story remains about the same. A neophyte lawyer, Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), winds up working at a low-rent law firm when he can find no other job after finishing law school in Memphis, Tenn. The only thing he has going for him is an insurance case: a young man, dying of leukemia, who has been wrongfully denied a bone-marrow transplant by his insurance company. But getting that case to court will be like running the high-hurdles with his feet cut off. For starters, Rudy has no trial experience — and the insurance company has the high-powered Leo Drummond (Jon Voight) and three or four of his assistants for the defense. Even as he is preparing for the trial, Rudy is getting involved in another kind of case. While hunting for clients at a local hospital, he spots a young woman (Claire Danes) who has been beaten by her husband. He befriends her; by film’s end, he is emotionally involved with her in an effort to get her out of this abusive marriage.
Mr. Coppola, who adapted the novel for his screenplay, understands that Mr. Grisham created a story in which the end is never in doubt. While hewing to the novel’s basic plot, the director turns the courtroom story into more of a roller-coaster ride. He draws a skillful and sympathetic performance out of Mr. Damon as Rudy. He also gives Mr. Voight the best villain role he’s played this year (and he’s played a bunch of them): a sleek, shark-like lawyer who doesn’t need to twitch or overact to show off the power he trades in.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, from Mary Kay Place as the tough-minded mother of the stricken victim, to Danny DeVito as Rudy’s assistant, a would-be attorney who has failed the bar six times and refers to himself as ”a paralawyer.” Even the usually self-indulgent Mickey Rourke makes a good showing as Rudy’s oily boss.
The Rainmaker isn’t a great movie, but it’s an involving and compelling one. Given the weakness of the short material, that’s nothing short of miraculous.