It has Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon; a bad plot couldn't get a better break


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Hollywood has learned how to handle John Grisham. Take his annual bestseller, shower it with talent and money, and the mediocrity of his material will dissolve into the glitz of the big production. "The Client" has Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, two stars who are so interesting to watch that you forget the story is a sieve.

Would you bet on this plot? A 12 year old boy sneaks off for a smoke in the woods and witnesses the suicide of a Mafia lawyer after he tells the boy where the very important body is buried. The boy finds himself a lawyer who, while a recovering alcoholic, managed in three years to finish law school and collect the experience and wisdom to take on the state's famed prosecutor, who wants to be governor. You would if you had Sarandon and Jones as your protagonists.

The movie cuts jarringly back and forth between two worlds: the dangerous one where Reggie (Susan Sarandon) joins her child client in playing detective, and the slightly safer courtroom that is the battlefield for Reggie and Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones). Their jousting is mediated by Judge Harry Roosevelt (Ossie Davis), whose favoritism toward Reggie is a welcome safe haven for her and for the audience, but extravagantly inappropriate by any normal standard. Roy wants the boy's testimony, Reggie wants his love, and the Mob wants him dead.

That puts Mark in the lead role, quite a load for a new young actor, Brad Renfro, to carry. If Renfro plays it a little too wise and too smart, it's not surprising since he is asked to be the primary caretaker of his mother, his younger brother, and his lawyer. Mary-Louise Parker, as Mark's mother, conveys beautifully and mournfully the despair of a woman who cannot help her family or herself.

As Roy Foltrigg, Tommy Lee Jones uses his innate subtleties to create a character that you can love one minute for the honor you hope lies beneath the smarm, and hate the next for the opportunistic manipulation of the media on his march to the statehouse.

Susan Sarandon's Reggie is astonishing in her vulnerability. The audience must live with the probability that her professional veneer may dissolve at any moment. She infuses the part with such quiet intelliegence that it is impossible to concentrate on anything else--like John Grisham's bad plot--when she's on screen.

Sunk in my seat and contemplating my annoyance at the holes in this movie, I remembered the case on the nightly news: bloody gloves, daggers, throat slittings, wailing dogs, and victimized children alternating with courtroom scenes of Robert Shapiro, the master media-manipulator, and Marcia Clark, the taut, confident prosecutor. So "The Client" is no less real than life. Enjoy it for the tension and the gloss. It has Jones and Sarandon; a bad plot couldn't get a better break.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 492
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG-13 2h0m

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