Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Francis Ford Coppola|
|Screenplay by||Francis Ford Coppola|
|Based on||The Rainmaker|
by John Grisham
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$45.9 million|
The Rainmaker is a 1997 American legal drama film based on John Grisham's 1995 novel of the same name, and written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It stars Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, Virginia Madsen, Mary Kay Place and Teresa Wright in her final film role.
Rudy Baylor is a graduate of the University of Memphis Law School. Unlike most of his fellow grads, he has no high-paying job lined up and is forced to apply for part-time positions while serving drinks at a Memphis bar. Desperate for a job, he is introduced to J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone, a ruthless but successful ambulance chaser, who makes him an associate. To earn his fee, Rudy is required to hunt for potential clients at a local hospital. He meets Deck Shifflet, a less-than-ethical former insurance assessor-turned-paralegal who has failed the bar exam six times. However, Deck is resourceful in gathering information and is an expert on insurance lawsuits.
Rudy has a case of insurance bad faith which could be worth several million dollars in damages. When Stone is raided by the FBI, Rudy and Deck set up a practice themselves. They file suit on behalf of a middle-aged couple, Dot and Buddy Black, whose 22-year-old son, Donny Ray, is dying of leukemia, but could have been saved with a bone marrow transplant, denied by their insurance carrier Great Benefit.
Rudy passes the Tennessee bar exam but has never argued a case before a judge and jury. Now he finds himself up against a group of experienced lawyers from a large firm, headed by Leo F. Drummond, an attorney who uses unscrupulous tactics to win his cases. The original judge, Harvey Hale, is set to dismiss because he sees it as a so-called "lottery" case that slows down the judicial process. However, a more sympathetic judge, Tyrone Kipler, takes over when Hale suffers a fatal heart attack. Kipler, a former civil rights attorney, immediately denies Great Benefit's petition for dismissal.
While seeking new clients, Rudy meets Kelly Riker, a battered wife whose beatings by husband Cliff have put her in the hospital. Rudy persuades Kelly to file for divorce, which leads to a confrontation with Cliff that results in Rudy beating him nearly to death. To keep Rudy from being implicated, Kelly kills Cliff, then tells the police it was self-defense. The district attorney declines to prosecute.
Donny Ray dies, but not before giving a video deposition at his home. The case goes to trial, where Drummond gets the vital testimony of Rudy's key witness, Jackie Lemanczyk, stricken from the record. Nevertheless, thanks to Rudy's determination and some clandestine reference help from a now Caribbean-based fugitive Bruiser Stone with whom Deck is connected by intermediaries, her testimony - and Great Benefit Employee Manual - are readmitted. Rudy's skillful cross-examination of Great Benefit's president, Wilfred Keeley is the evidence that leads the jury to find for Donny Ray's family for not only actual damages but also punitive damages that are more than Great Benefit have. It is a great triumph for Rudy and Deck, with Wilfred Keeley being arrested by the FBI and investigation proceedings into Great Benefit launched in multiple jurisdictions. However, the insurance company declares bankruptcy, allowing it to avoid paying punitive damages. There is no payout for the grieving parents and no fee for Rudy.
Deciding that this success will create unrealistic expectations for future clients, Rudy decides to abandon his new practice and teach law. He and Kelly leave town together, heading out for an uncertain, but bright, future together.
On its opening weekend, the film ranked third behind Anastasia and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, earning $10,626,507. The film grossed $45,916,769 in the domestic box office, exceeding its estimated production budget of $40 million, but still was considered a disappointment for a film adaptation of a Grisham novel, particularly in comparison to The Firm, which was made for roughly the same amount but grossed more than six times its budget.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with the film earning an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9 out of 10. The website's critical consensus states: "Invigorated by its talented cast and Francis Ford Coppola's strong direction, The Rainmaker is a satisfying legal drama -- and arguably the best of Hollywood's many John Grisham adaptations." On Metacritic, the film has a 72 out of 100 rating based on 19 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews".
Roger Ebert gave The Rainmaker three stars out of four, remarking: "I have enjoyed several of the movies based on Grisham novels ... but I've usually seen the storyteller's craft rather than the novelist's art being reflected. ... By keeping all of the little people in focus, Coppola shows the variety of a young lawyer's life, where every client is necessary and most of them need a lot more than a lawyer."James Berardinelli also gave the film three stars out of four, saying that "the intelligence and subtlety of The Rainmaker took me by surprise" and that the film "stands above any other filmed Grisham adaptation".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: