Even if you’ve never read one of his books, chances are you still know the name John Grisham. Many of his stories have been turned into feature films, with my favorite being the 1996 courtroom drama, A Time to Kill. While that’s my own personal opinion, there are a lot of people who say that the best adaptation of a Grisham novel is the 1994 film, The Client. I remember watching this movie on t.v. when I was really young, and something about it really struck a cord in my brain making me remember it to this day. It’s finally time I revisited it and see if it’s held up after all these years.
Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) and his little brother Ricky (David Speck) live a simple life in a trailer park by the woods. After sneaking in there to have cigarettes behind their mother’s (Mary-Louise Parker) back, the two boys witness the suicide by a mafia lawyer named Jerome “Romey” Clifford (Walter Olkewicz), but not before spilling the beans about his murderous client, Barry “The Blade” Muldanno (Anthony LaPaglia). This information makes the fame hungry federal attorney Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones) anxious to get his hands on what the kid knows and lock Muldanno up for life, even if it means putting Sway in the sights of numerous mafia hitmen. This prompts him to get a lawyer of his own, the inexperienced Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon), who treats Sway’s case with a special kind of attention and won’t stop until he is protected from both Foltrigg and Muldanno.
This movie really has a recipe for success. Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon are enough of an acting force to push any story forward, but it also helps having a Grisham story and Joel Schumacher backing them up. Before anyone says anything, I realize Schumacher is responsible for Batman and Robin, but he’s also responsible for some great films like Phonebooth and Falling Down. This is a very well constructed and acted movie from everyone involved. Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but Tommy Lee Jones also has a lot of great scenes that showcases how smarmy his character really is. This is also the debut of Brad Renfro who stands up very well to his acting superiors, which makes it more unfortunate his career was cut short when he died at the age of 28.
With all of these talents mixing together, I’m quite surprised that The Client isn’t as exciting or thrilling as it should have been. I went into this wanting to see a lot more of the legal procedures and the mafia getting involved, but there’s only one court room scene and the mafia villains are completely laughable. For someone nick named “The Blade,” I was surprised to see how much of a cartoon character he was. It got to the point where it was hard to be threatened by these Looney Toon mafiosos. One of the reasons I love A Time to Kill so much is because there are great courtroom scenes. The one in The Client works fine, but there just isn’t enough there to make it really exciting. The film instead seems to want to focus on the relationship between Reggie Love and Mark Sway.
Since the attention is put on Brad Renfro’s and Susan Sarandon’s character, it’s important that they succeed in making their relationship interesting. At times, I feel like that’s the real crux of the movie. Sarandon’s character wants to have a connection with her estranged kids and Brad Renfro’s character wants to have a parent that can actually protect him. That’s where these two characters meet and find a special bond that makes their relationship interesting. There are times where this theme of needing some sort of connection is beat over the head, but it still works well enough and adds an extra layer to the movie.
I had a bit of a hard time writing this review because I don’t really have a whole lot to say about The Client. The opening scene is one of the most intense and memorable intros to a movie I’ve ever seen, but from there it gets a little less than thrilling. What holds the movie up is the unique characters and an especially unique murder mystery that a child has now gotten mixed up in. If more attention was spent to actually making an exciting court drama with a touch of gangsters that weren’t cartoons, The Client would have certainly been a better movie. As it is, it’s a hard movie to talk about because it really is just ok.