The Film: The Client (1994)
The Principles: Joel Schumacher (Director). Akiva Goldsman, Robert Getchell (Screenwriters). Brad Renfro, Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Anthony LaPaglia, Mary-Louise Parker, Kim Coates, Bradley Whitford, J.T. Walsh, Will Patton, Ossie Davis, Anthony Heald, Ron Dean, Anthony Edwards, John Diehl, David Speck, William Sanderson, Micole Mercurio, William H. Macy, Dan Castellaneta, etc.
The Premise: Two Memphis boys witness the suicide of a prominent New Orleans mob lawyer, who happens to spill a few secrets to the eldest child before shuffling the mortal coil. This unfortunately places he and his family squarely in the cross hairs of not only the mafia, but a media-obsessed lawyer and the FBI.
Is It Good?: Are you freaking kidding me? Look at that cast. LOOK AT IT. As Alien would say, “LOOK AT MUH SHIT!”. Even the bit roles are covered by great character actors. Schumacher, who was in the midst of his heyday here, rounded up one hell of a roster to adapt one of John Grisham’s best efforts for the big screen. Laugh or weep about his current career status all you want, but Joel Schumacher used to be one that we could count on. The Lost Boys (1987), Flatliners (1990), Falling Down (1993), A Time To Kill (1996), Tigerland (2000), Phone Booth (2002), etc. Say what you will about his Batfilms, but Joel had a damn good track record for the most part up until a little less than a decade ago.
Moving back to the players involved, Brad Renfro makes one hell of a debut as Mark Sway, the young man at the center of it all. It is a testament to his ability here that I equally felt like hugging him and slapping the shit out of him. He’s a petulant little scamp, but a loveable one. A young Mary-Louise Parker plays his confused and protective mother to a T; giving some complexity to what could easily have been a “simple country bumpkin” part. Sarandon and Jones also give two of their career-best turns as lawyers Reggie Love and Roy Foltrigg, respectively. Many of the other roles are cast to type, but none phone it in. When you want a cadre of sleazy lawyers and officials, could you do any better than the likes of Whitford, Walsh, Patton, Heald, etc.? Or LaPaglia, Diehl, Dean, and Coates as your requisite criminally-inclined? I think not.
Great material. Great journeyman director. Stellar cast. This one has it all. While I wouldn’t call The Client a masterpiece or a classic, it is a damn good film and has absolutely left a lasting mark on the world of television. Courtroom thrillers were all the rage in the ’90s, particularly Grisham adaptations, and the cream of the crop made their mark as they passed through theaters before the genre eventually found a strong home on the networks for going on 20 years now. While the public’s obsession with weekly procedural shows centered on the day-to-day lives of cops, lawyers, etc. has waned in recent years, it’s nice to catch a glimpse every once in awhile of what helped kick the whole trend off. Besides, how often do you get to see Anthony LaPaglia with big dangly earrings, slicked-back hair, and a fishnet shirt?
Is It Worth A Look?: Absolutely. While the plot might seem stock, it’s all in the execution. Schumacher was still firing on all cylinders and its easy to see why he was chosen to take over the Batman franchise after Burton stepped down as director. While it’s a shame the two he did turned out, it would be a disservice to the man and his work to overlook his real contributions to cinema just because he put nipples on the batsuit. Give this one a whirl when you have the time. Whether it is a first time viewing or a long overdue revisit, I think you might be surprised at how much you will enjoy this well-crafted tale.
Random Anecdotes: At this point in time, John Grisham actually held the power of casting approval for any adaptations of his work. Because of this, the studio had to abide by his declaration that no professional child actor be hired to play Mark.
The film spawned a television spin-off that starred JoBeth Williams as “Reggie Love” and John Heard as “Roy Foltrigg”. Ossie Davis reprised his role of Judge Roosevelt in multiple episodes. The series only lasted for a single season.
Grisham was so impressed with this adaptation that he personally requested that Schumacher be brought back to do A Time To Kill.
Cinematic Soulmates: A Few Good Men, The Firm, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, A Time To Kill, etc.