Retro Film Review: The Client (1994)
(Note: Capsule version of the review is available here.)
Before I saw The Client I had already been disenchanted by the books of John Grisham. To be quite frank, I haven't read them (although they used to be something resembling bestsellers on the small and bibliophobic market of my country) but I had opportunity to watch two of the screen adaptations - Pollack's The Firm and Pakula's Pelican Brief - and that was enough to make me think about Grisham as nothing more as mediocre author. By that time, I had already watched enough of Joel Schumacher's films to have opinion about him as nothing more than mediocre film-maker. Perhaps that was the reason why this film actually worked – mediocre script was perfect match for mediocre talent.
The movie, like almost all Grisham's books is set in American South and features some unusual characters in big and, more often than not, legal trouble. This time the protagonist in question is Mark Sway (played by Brad Renfro), 11-year old boy from dysfunctional family who had just witnessed the suicide of a important mob lawyer Romey Clifford (played by Walter Olkewicz). Just before killing himself, Romey told Mark about the body of a murdered senator and other details that would put away wiseguys like his client Barry Muldano (played by Anthony La Paglia) behind the bars. Federal prosecutors led by politically ambitious Roy Foltrigg (played by Tommy Lee Jones) are convinced that the boy knows those details and they begin harassing him. The boy then hires attorney in a form of Reggie Love (played by Susan Sarandon). She, being the recovered alcoholic, perhaps doesn't look like a much of help, but she would fight for the rights of his client. In the meatime, Muldano and his cronies are trying to kill the boy.
The film has rather weak premise - boy is smart enough to elude law enforcement and hire attorneys, yet not intelligent enough to know that the co-operation with the authorities is the only way for him to stay alive. Perhaps that works in real world, but in Grisham's works, same as in the script by Akiva Goldsman, some other rules apply. In any case, Schumacher directs this forgettable script as real professional, not allowing us to stop and think of all the flaws in it. The biggest attraction here is a great acting talent, most notable in the forms of Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, actors whose talent is very suitable for fascinating Grisham's characters. Sarandon is very good as strong professional woman, and Jones is great as ruthless yet charming public official. Actors in minor roles are also good, like Ossie Davis as sympathetic judge, Will Patton as menacing yet intelligent policeman and Mary Louise Parker as boy's desperate mother. On the other hand, Anthony La Paglia is rather pathetic in thankless role of stupid mafioso. All in all, The Client is still forgettable, but watchable piece of cinema that gives the phrase "mediocrity" a good name.
RATING: 5/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on June 3rd 1999)
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