The Client (1994)

Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Akiva Goldsman & Robert Getschell

John Grisham took the 1990s by storm with a major pop culture impact not only from his judicial novels, but also in their subsequent film adaptations. Already in this marathon we have seen such stars are Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Tom Cruise sign on for these films. The Client marks the third film released in the span of three years, and brings on board Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, both big names in 1994. It is clear with the popularity of Grisham, and all these movies coming along that these stories struck a chord, even if in a pulpy way. So after one good film (The Firm) and one bad (The Pelican Brief), will we start to see the Grisham touch shine through, or will filmmakers continue to struggle to adapt these tales to the big screen?

The Client opens with two poor, young brothers exploring the creek by their trailer park home to sneak a cigarette. But their lewd conduct is interrupted by a man who drives up and attempts to kill himself. The eldest son, Mark (Brad Renfro), attempts to stop the man, but finds himself being told a deep, dark secret. Scared by what this secret could mean, Mark hides the truth from the police while his brother remains in shock from seeing the man, a mob lawyer, kill himself. He hires a mediocre lawyer (Susan Sarandon) to protect his rights from the FBI and the intimidating lead (Tommy Lee Jones), who is pressing Mark to reveal the truth in order to take down a notorious mob hitman (Anthony LaPaglia), who is accused of murdering a politician.

After mixed results from the first two films in this marathon, I had no idea what to expect from this Joel Schumacher directed entry into the Grisham universe. While I started to read this novel, I never finished it, so I have very little to compare it to, but I honestly felt like the story here was so lacking that what resulted was perhaps the best Schumacher could muster. It just felt unnecessarily convoluted and complicated. I won’t get into too much spoiler territory, but suffice to say I felt most of the film could have been avoided pretty easily, and the “heroism” and “nobility” presented by these characters was worthless. The premise sinks any of the manufactured suspense and dread that Schumacher attempts to inject into the film.

It certainly didn’t help that Brad Renfro, who plays the little boy at the center of this film, did not give a great performance. He is what you might expect from an inexperienced child actor and gives a performance a little too over the top. Schumacher’s style is somewhat in line with this performance however, which is what makes both Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones’ performances such a delightful surprise. They are both excellent and completely unaligned with everything else going on in this film. But what is crazy is that this film features literally all the “that guys” ever known to man. There are so many famous or recognizable people throughout that you can really tell that in this era, everybody wanted to be in the next big Grisham thing.

When I started this project, I had only seen A Time to Kill to my memory. So after two subpar entries out of three, I am happy to see that film next on the horizon, even if it does feature Joel Schumacher behind the camera once again. His choices in The Client were exactly that, choices. And they rarely worked for me, so I hope revisiting a film I greatly enjoyed in A Time to Kill does not change my opinion on it. Especially so because if there is a third clunker in a row, early in this marathon, then I could easily lose my faith in the John Grisham engine, perhaps driving me back to the books that people universally enjoy, as opposed to slogging through these underwhelming films. I am sure this is just a little rut and things will turn around, but how disappointing to see Denzel Washington, Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones and Julia Roberts appear in John Grisham movies and have them be bad movies.


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