Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola is hit-or-miss with source material; bulls-eyes came in the ‘70s courtesy of Mario Puzo and Joseph Conrad, while he completely missed the board with his S.E. Hinton streetgang rubbish The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. And in the late ‘90s came The Rainmaker, based on John Grisham’s novel. The primary fault of Coppola’s movie are the same found other Grisham novels-turned-films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client)--dialogue-heavy legal dramas work far better when sitting on a shelf binded by leather.
Matt Damon is rookie lawyer Rudy Baylor, who keeps his law-bible close to his heart and his briefcase (though he devises shady techniques to counter his opponents). He’s a guppy swimming with the sharks, the school led by the powerful Leo Drummond (Jon Voight, who snagged a Golden Globe nomination), who will gladly swallow an opponent whilst asking for seconds. On the side of Baylor is lovable meddler Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito).
Aside from Damon’s fine display, the supporting cast (which borders on ensemble) may be the best part of The Rainmaker: Teresa Wright, Mickey Rourke, Danny Glover (uncredited), Virginia Madsen, Mary Kay Place, and Roy Scheider (keeping with the shark theme) all make the movie sporadically worthwhile.
But too much doesn’t belong, and that’s one of the problems with adapting a 576-page novel for a 70’ screen. An objectionable, curiously handled love angle with an abused woman (Claire Danes) and Baylor has no payoff, sucks up too much of the film’s time, and remains in the movie solely to keep those dulled by the stale, inactively paced courtroom scenes occupied with knee-rubbing and fist-pounding. Much of these moments (like the rest of the movie) travel with a score by Elmer Bernstein that is better homed in the seedy alleyways of New York City than the mosquito-riddled Memphis.
Those with an affinity for these mumbo-jumbo legal dramas will likely get more from The Rainmaker than I did. But as it stands, Coppola’s latest is about as drawn-out as the OJ Simpson trial, and in the end, just as unsatisfying.
Watch The Rainmaker with Francis Ford Coppola: In the introduction, Coppola discusses what attracted him to Grisham’s novel. It then goes directly into the film with the above commentary, so we’re watching it with DeVito as well.
Francis Ford Coppola directs John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (27:04): Comprised of stock interviews and set footage, this featurette is quite informative, mostly due to watching Coppola and his cast at work. We get a glimpse of the actors on set preparing, improvising, blooping, and, well, acting. Recent interviews would have been a plus, but this is still worth checking out.
Deleted Scenes (21:42): Along with a short bit with Damon’s character in law school and he and DeVito “chasing ambulances” are the Extended Beginning and Alternate Ending, each with introductory text.
And rounding out the disc are Screen Tests for Damon, Danes, Place, and Madsen. A solid addition.