Down by Law

Even Francis Ford Coppola can't make much of John Grisham

The actors' moments of truth are what pierce the mental fog. Mary Kay Place gives an unsettling, weary buzz to the role of a disappointed wife and mother; no performer alive does more with a knitted brow. Whitworth imbues her ailing son with just the right sad purity. Madsen, as a badly used woman, conjures a worn sensuality that's both sordid and touching.

And the movie's highly caffeinated blend of sinners occasionally jolts you wide awake. Jon Voight, in the part of Great Benefit's rich, devious lawyer, wins laughs with his voluptuous Southern accent, especially when he says he hopes the proceedings won't turn "p-u-u-u-gilistic." Rourke's suggestive, burned-out sheen makes you wish he had more to play, as Bruiser. And DeVito's Deck -- avidly signing up clients as they lie in traction -- looks and acts like a spark plug. The movie peaks when he says a lawyer should "fight for his client, refrain from stealing money, try not to lie -- you know, the basics." Not everything DeVito does is choice; he punctuates his scenes with clumsy slapstick. But his bustling, simpatico pragmatist -- not Damon's wan, moralistic Rudy -- keeps the picture moving. During the recent publicity for the re-release of The Godfather, Coppola talked about identifying with Pacino partly because he was short and Italian. In The Rainmaker, he lets the stubby paisano run away with the show.

John Grisham's The Rainmaker.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Jon Voight and Danny DeVito.

Rated PG-13.
120 minutes.

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