For, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The new film ‘Dark Waters’ that opens in theaters this weekend reminded me of a similar film, though unlike ‘Dark Waters,’ ‘The Rainmaker’ is fictional. Still, it might get you in the mood for another idealistic lawyer taking on a big corporation, and ‘The Rainmaker’ is readily available on DVD and various streaming sites. My review was published on Nov. 27, 1997, in the Deseret news.

In some ways, "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" plays not like a made-for-television movie — but like two made-for-television movies.

The main and most compelling story is a courtroom drama that pits a young, idealistic Memphis lawyer named Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) against a huge insurance corporation, David-and-Goliath style.

Second to that is the story of the lawyer's relationship with a tragic young woman (Claire Danes) who is continually abused by her vicious husband.

Both are utterly predictable, and the second, in particular, brings nothing new to the table. (What it does offer is Danes, whose performance is sweet and touching, even when everything she does is overly familiar.)


     Claire Danes, Matt Damon, 'The Rainmaker'

The courtroom drama centers around the plight of a dirt-poor family whose son is dying of leukemia but whose claim has been denied by a heartless insurance company.

The company's high-rolling legal team is led by the renowned, if pompous Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), who is sure he can easily stomp on Rudy and his streetwise assistant Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito). What he doesn't count on is Rudy and Deck's tenacity — they believe in their clients and just won't let go.

As written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (who stumbled last year with "Jack"), Grisham's novel never rises above its pulp roots, but the film is nonetheless slick and entertaining — and boasts some wonderful performances from its all-star cast. (Rudy's voiceover narration was written by Michael Herr in a way that is both clever and witty and which logically pushes the story along.)


  Danny DeVito, left, Matt Damon, 'The Rainmaker'

Damon is sincere and natural in the lead, DeVito brings some wonderful energy to the proceedings, Voight is appropriately smarmy as the opposing counsel, unbilled Danny Glover is dignified and warm as the judge and Mary Kay Place is heartbreaking as the leukemia victim's mother. (Johnny Whitworth, as her son, and Red West, as her nearly mute husband, are also quite good.) Roy Scheider as the insurance company's CEO and Randy Travis as a volatile juror, however, seem more like stunt casting.

In the end, this is crowd-pleasing entertainment. A little long (it doesn't need to run more than two hours) and overly predictable, but amusing and emotionally rewarding.

"John Grisham's The Rainmaker" is rated PG-13 for violence and some profanity.