*/**** Image A Sound B Extras D
starring Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Mary-Louise Parker, Brad Renfro
screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by John Grisham
directed by Joel Schumacher
by Walter Chaw Joel Schumacher's The Client starts out like a sequel to Schumacher's own The Lost Boys, as two little boys (one of them Brad Renfro) try out cigarettes and John Grisham's awful dialogue (augmented by awful screenwriter Akiva Goldsman) in a verdant backwoods Eden before witnessing the suicide of mob lawyer Jerome Clifford (Walter Olkewicz). "Romey" is despondent, see, because he knows where mobster Muldano (Anthony LaPaglia) has buried a body. Because little Mark (Renfro) spent quality time with the goombah before his voyage to the great Italian restaurant in the sky, Mark is now Little Italy's most-wanted. Cut to Muldano polishing off a Shirley Temple--judging by the way Schumacher makes love to the maraschino cherry between LaPaglia's teeth--at a sleazy New Orleans nightclub to complete the impression that all schlockmeister Schumacher ever wanted to make was variations on arrested-vampire movies. At least it sports Will Patton in a supporting role back when he was a well-kept secret. And JT Walsh, and William H. Macy, and Mary-Louise Parker. Plus, Anthony Edwards, Bradley Whitford, Ossie Davis, Dan Castellaneta, William Sanderson...
Susan Sarandon is Reggie Love, an alcoholic lawyer in The Verdict mold, called back into action in defense of poor Mark and asked to resurrect her Annie Savoy opposite slick U.S. Attorney Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones), who's desperate to know where the corpse is stashed to further his own career. There's nothing sexier than this period of Susan Sarandon. Her 40s were really good to her. What's affecting--and difficult at times--about The Client is that it doesn't take a lot to imagine the Mark character as some phantom predictor of the road and fate that claimed Renfro himself down the line. Mostly, though, it's exhibit A in how difficult it is to hide that the whole thing at its heart is just a hicksploitation drag show.
The first hour is Reggie threatening to sue a conference table full of chauvinist lawyers on behalf of her half-pint client, whom mob assassins repeatedly fail to kill; the second is courtroom hijinks in which Reggie proves her mettle by outsmarting everybody with her "Well, I may just be a giant chicken, but the Constitution states..." It's straw-men hour, essentially, married to underdog uplift, married to maternal melodrama--explaining why it is that John Grisham is a kajillionaire and that the mid-Nineties saw almost as many Grisham adaptations (The Rainmaker, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Chamber, A Time to Kill, The Gingerbread Man, and so on). Sarandon, I swear to God, even looks good in mom jeans here, which is exactly the kind of sexism Reggie Love has to fight to prove she's a capable lawyer despite being a divorced, recovering alcoholic who lost custody of her kids because she accidentally tried to kill herself with sleeping pills. The surprising part is that The Client was never an Oprah's Book Club selection. It did get a TV spin-off with JoBeth Williams, however, so...what was I talking about again? Yes, The Client: At the hour-and-four-minute mark, someone burns down Mark's trailer, leading to the moment where Mark's mom (Mary-Louise Parker) delivers an outraged, trailer-park floozy soliloquy about someone torching her home and stating the film's subtext to Reggie that Mark "doesn't need another mother!" Parker's performance is very much like Ashley Judd's in Bug--the difference is that Schumacher bears absolutely no resemblance to William Friedkin.
1994 is also the year that movies like Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, and Forrest Gump appeared--harbingers, each, of a paradigm shift in cinema from traditional modes of mainstream storytelling (through film, for example) to the more slippery truths offered up by digital video. When a learning-disabled Republican shrimp farmer can tell LBJ he needs to pee, we're well through the looking glass. It's interesting that concurrent with that new subjectivity, we were given all these films about righteous avatars navigating corrupt waters--and interesting to me in an ancillary way that a key scene elided from Natural Born Killers is a courtroom sequence where justice is literally perverted. Now, after two decades of courtroom TV dramas have made Matlocks of us all, the only fun to be had is either at the genre's expense or in trying to predict the objections and case law before they're raised. If The Client is worth discussing, in other words, it's because it's part of a larger conversation. The only relevance it'll ever have as an artifact in and of itself is in relationship to the relative mediocrity of every other film from this cycle. To that end, it's better than The Pelican Brief, The Chamber, and The Gingerbread Man, and roughly on par with The Firm and The Rainmaker. It's not as good as--or at least not as funny as--Schumacher's later A Time to Kill, but the best movie to come out of this cultural burp is probably the one based on William Diehl's Primal Fear. How do you like them apples, Grisham?
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner delivers The Client to Blu-ray in a lovely 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that delivers quite startling detail, especially in rendering the backwoods Louisiana wilderness. Beasts of the Southern Wild, eat your heart out. Conversely, the presentation draws a bit too much attention to the fact that the French Quarter looks like antiseptic Hollywood bullshit. Seemingly par for the CinemaScope course, the image is light on grain--I certainly didn't detect much in the way of excessive noise-reduction or filtering. A great catalogue title. The attendant 2.0 DTS-HD MA track (reflecting a rare non-5.1 soundmix from the early digital era) is absolutely adequate for what it's asked to do: reproduce Howard Shore's syrupy score with fidelity and the cornpone legalese without fuzz. A trailer for the film, in SD, is remarkable for demonstrating how quickly trailer masters have deteriorated in twenty years. Rather regrettably, by the way, a printing error leaves Renfo's name off the keepcase.
Included as a special treat is the 1995 pilot for the abovementioned show, which opens with a shot of a riverboat. For some reason, this reminded me of "Voyagers!" starring Jon-Erik Hexum, who later killed himself on the set of "Cover Up" in some sort of Deer Hunter Russian Roulette incident. What was I talking about, again? Yes, "The Client". The series premiere is just more fussiness around the Love character; JoBeth Williams is no Sarandon, but it could have something to do with me not being able to watch her in anything without wondering when she's going to be dragged up the wall in a football jersey and panties. Which is exactly the kind of misogyny Reggie has to fight as she somehow finds herself at the beck of another child client. I wonder if the entire series was Reggie defending children who've witnessed mob hits. I'm just kidding, I don't really wonder. At least the mother is played by Polly "Kiss my grits!" Holliday. Who says there are no second acts in American lives?
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