The Rainmaker (1997 film)

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The Rainmaker
John grishams the rainmaker.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola
Based on The Rainmaker 
by John Grisham
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography John Toll
Edited by
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • November 21, 1997 (1997-11-21)
Running time
135 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million
Box office $45.9 million[2]

The Rainmaker is a 1997 American legal drama film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Matt Damon, based on John Grisham's 1995 novel of the same name.

Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, Virginia Madsen and Mary Kay Place also star. This was the final film appearance of Academy Award-winning actress Teresa Wright.


Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) was brought up in a slum. His father, who was a severe alcoholic, abused him and his mother. After studying at Austin Peay State University, Rudy, who has an interest in social justice and civil rights, decides to attend law school. When he graduates from the University of Memphis State Law School, he, unlike most of his fellow grads, has no high-paying employment lined up. He is forced to apply for part-time positions while he serves drinks at a Memphis bar.

Desperate for a job, he reluctantly goes to an interview with J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), a ruthless and corrupt but successful personal injury lawyer, who makes him an associate. To earn his fee, Rudy is turned into an ambulance chaser, required to hunt for potential clients at a local hospital.

Soon he meets Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a less-than-ethical former insurance assessor turned paralegal, who has gone to law school but failed the bar exam six times. Deck is resourceful in gathering information, and practically an expert on insurance lawsuits.

Rudy manages to get just one case, concerning insurance bad faith. It may be worth several million dollars in damages, which appeals to him because he is about to declare himself bankrupt. He rents an apartment above the garage in the home of elderly Miss Birdsong (Teresa Wright), a client whose will he has been drafting.

Bruiser is suspected of racketeering, and his offices are raided by the police and FBI. Not knowing what else to do, Rudy and Deck set up, without so much as a secretary for help, a two-man practice. They file a bad faith suit on behalf of a middle-aged couple, Dot and Buddy Black, whose 22-year-old son Donny Ray (Johnny Whitworth) is going to die from leukemia. Donny Ray would most likely have been saved by a bone marrow transplant had his medical claim not been denied by Great Benefit, the family's insurance carrier.

Although Rudy passes the Tennessee bar exam, he has never argued a case before a judge and jury. He finds himself up against a group of experienced and devious lawyers from a large firm that is headed by Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), a showman attorney who uses unscrupulous tactics to win his cases.

The original judge assigned to the case, Harvey Hale (Dean Stockwell), is set to dismiss it because he sees it as one of many so-called "lottery" cases that slow the judicial process. But after Hale suffers a fatal heart attack, a far more sympathetic judge, Tyrone Kipler (Danny Glover), takes over the case. Kipler, a former civil rights attorney, immediately denies the insurance company's petition for dismissal.

While preparing his case, Rudy gets to know a young woman whom he met at the hospital, Kelly Riker (Claire Danes), a battered wife whose husband, Cliff (Andrew Shue), has beaten her so savagely with a baseball bat that she must be hospitalized. After a particularly violent attack, Rudy persuades Kelly, to whom he is attracted, to file for divorce.

Going to Kelly's home to pack her belongings, Rudy and Kelly are confronted by a bat-wielding Cliff. After Cliff is injured in the fight that follows, Kelly insists Rudy leave. From outside, Rudy can hear Cliff being hit with the baseball bat. To protect Rudy from being implicated in Cliff's death, Kelly tells the police she killed her husband in self-defense. Rudy promises to defend Kelly if the case goes to trial, but the district attorney declines to prosecute, knowing Kelly would never be convicted.

Donny Ray dies, but not before giving a video deposition. The case goes to trial, where Drummond capitalizes on Rudy's inexperience. He gets vital testimony by Rudy's key witness, former Great Benefit employee Jackie Lemanczyk (Virginia Madsen), stricken from the record, and attempts to discredit Donny Ray's mother (Mary Kay Place). Due to Rudy's single-minded determination and skillful cross-examination of Great Benefit's unctuous president Wilfred Keeley (Roy Scheider), the jury finds for the plaintiff with a monetary award far exceeding all expectations.

It is a great triumph for Rudy and Deck, at least until Keeley attempts to flee the country and Great Benefit declares itself bankrupt, thus allowing it to avoid paying punitive damages to the Blacks, as well as any future judgments in class-action lawsuits. There is no payout for the grieving parents and no fee for Rudy or Deck. Dot Black expresses satisfaction that at least they put Great Benefit out of business, and that it is now unable to hurt other families like hers.

Convinced his success will create unrealistic expectations for future clients, Rudy abandons his practice to instead teach law with a focus on ethical behavior. He leaves town with Kelly, wanting to retain a low profile and protect Kelly from any possible retribution by Cliff's vengeful relatives. He leaves the legal profession after just one successful case.


Differences from the novel[edit]

The film follows the book in most details, but changes the order of events: in the book, the confrontation ending with Rudy's self-defense killing of Kelly's abusive husband occurs after the end of the trial, not during. Also, the film leaves out an important piece of information from the book that was a central point of Rudy's case: the fact that the leukemia victim had an identical twin, which would have made a transplant virtually certain to work as it would have been a perfect genetic match.

The film portrays Rudy's decision to leave town with Kelly as being primarily out of a desire to remain low profile and protect Kelly, but the book depicts a much greater degree of disillusionment with the legal system and its ability to be manipulated for personal gain.

The book also highlights the questionable financial viability of Rudy's firm as the failure to extract any income from the Great Benefit case greatly undermines its earning ability.

Leo F. Drummond, the defense lawyer, is a more manipulative character in the film. While his depiction in the book is of a stuffy big firm lawyer, in the movie he adopts a more predatory attitude toward Rudy; in particular:

  • In the book, Drummond objects to Rudy representing the Blacks as he has not yet received his law license. In the movie, Drummond defends Rudy in this respect, and even assists in his being sworn in. This, however, appears to have been done so that Drummond would be contesting the case against the very inexperienced Rudy.
  • Drummond also deliberately breaches evidentiary law, most notably in attempting to introduce a letter from the Black family's doctor as evidence. Legally such evidence is hearsay, opinion evidence, and a breach of doctor-client privilege. It is only Deck Shifflet who sees this and contests it.
  • In the film, Drummond is considerably more aggressive in cross-examination. This is mainly because the case in the film is much more argumentative and based on witness testimony, while in the book Rudy has considerably more evidence and is much better prepared.

Other differences are:

  • In the book, more time is devoted to Rudy's final semester as a law student; studying for the bar exam at the library and with his friend Booker, meeting with the placement office person (Madeline Skinner), and scouring the city looking for jobs and handing out résumés.
  • In the book, Rudy's old flame (Sara Plakmore) is a fellow law student who leaves Rudy for another (S. Todd Wilcox) and gets married. Sara doesn't pass the bar but Todd does. The movie leaves these characters out.
  • One brief subplot in the book has Rudy trying to get a paralegal job with a law firm run by an idol of his (Johnathan Lake). However the firm steals the Blacks' case. Later, the firm's building is destroyed by fire and Rudy gets the case back. Rudy is suspected of arson and is questioned by detectives at his apartment at Miss Birdie's, but it is implied that Bruiser takes care of it for Rudy. The film omits this subplot.
  • "Bruiser" Stone and "Prince" Thomas have bigger roles in the book, as they have a much more developed friendship with Rudy by helping him launch his career.
  • In the book, Tyrone Kipler is originally a partner of the law firm that Rudy's friend Booker Kane is an employee of, before accepting appointment as a judge. The film leaves out Booker Kane, as well as the link with Kipler.
  • Tyrone Kipler is more protective and supportive of Rudy (being rather biased against insurance companies) in the book, essentially forcing Drummond and his clients to accommodate Rudy in every aspect of the trial.
  • In the book, Rudy suggests $1.2 million as a possible settlement. Drummond doesn't convey this to Great Benefit, which raises issues of legal malpractice.
  • The book is somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not Cliff Riker dies at Rudy's hands after the fight in the apartment. In the film, he is clearly still alive when Kelly tells Rudy to leave, and it is suggested that Kelly is the one who actually kills Cliff.
  • In the film there are fewer witnesses called to give evidence.
  • In the book, the denial letter addressed to Dot Black which ends with the sentence "You must be stupid, stupid, stupid" was written by a claims examiner at Great Benefit who Rudy never meets because the company terminated him prior to the trial; presumably to avoid having to call him as a witness. In the film, Vice President of Claims Everett Lufkin testifies he wrote the letter during a period of personal turmoil and dryly apologizes for it.
  • In the movie, Rudy meets Kelly at her jewelry store after she's been beaten. In the book, this takes place at an apartment.
  • In the book, Kelly is taken by Rudy to an underground women's shelter, run by Betty Norville, where she can recover and hide from Cliff. In the film, Kelly is taken to Miss Birdie's house.
  • In the book, Donny Ray's doctor, Walter Kord, gives testimony in court regarding how standard bone marrow transplants have become. The film leaves Dr. Kord out.
  • In the book, Rudy's law office window is shot out, presumably by Cliff's family. This event doesn't happen in the film.
  • In both the book and the film, it is revealed that Great Benefit has withheld certain sections of its operating procedure manual from both the plaintiff and its own counsel. This is a clear violation of the Rules of Civil Procedure regarding disclosure of evidence during discovery. The movie, however, depicts the withholding of the operating procedure manual as an acceptable tactic, which is false.
  • In the book, Rudy takes a road trip over the New Year's and visits his former professor, Max Luedberg, in Madison, WI. Rudy discusses the case with him and receives advice on dealing with documents received from insurance companies and how to present the case. Leuberg also gives Rudy a copy of an updated Great Benefit policy specifically excluding bone marrow transplants from coverage, which is a small but significant change from the policy held by the Blacks. None of this occurs in the movie.
  • Rudy also stops in South Carolina to meet another attorney (Cooper Jackson) who has experience with Great Benefit and discusses his case. This lawyer gives Rudy the operating manuals containing the highly incriminating Section U. In the movie, these documents come from Jackie Lemancyzk, which gives rise to questions about their admissibility.
  • In the book, Rudy tracks down salesperson Bobby Ott in jail to try and convince him he needs to either give a deposition or testify. Bobby skips town. The film leaves him out.
  • In the book, Rudy calls the judge to referee the deposition in Cleveland which has not gone well. In the movie, Rudy only threatens to call the judge.
  • In the book, Deck is contemplating running some of Bruiser's hidden dirty money ($4 million) down to Miami where Bruiser has allegedly arranged a drop off with another runner. This side story doesn't make the film.
  • In the book, Rudy is made aware of Jackie Lemancyzk's whereabouts by her sympathetic lawyer (Peter Corsa) in Cleveland. Jackie and Rudy speak over the telephone. In the film, it is implied that Deck finds Jackie and brings her to a hotel where Rudy can hear her side of the story.
  • In the movie, Rudy gives a framed picture of Donny Ray to Buddy. Buddy later shows this photo up close to the defense team as Rudy gives his closing arguments. This does not happen in the book.
  • Rudy and Kelly's encounter at the cinema was longer and had more dialogue in the book than in the film.


Box office[edit]

On its opening weekend, the film ranked third behind Anastasia and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, earning $10,626,507.[3] The film grossed $45,916,769 in the domestic box office,[2] exceeding its estimated production budget of $40 million, but still was considered a disappointment for a film adaptation of a Grisham novel, particularly in comparison to The Firm, which was made for roughly the same amount but grossed more than six times its budget.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with the film earning an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Invigorated by its talented cast and Francis Ford Coppola's strong direction, The Rainmaker is a satisfying legal drama -- and arguably the best of Hollywood's many John Grisham adaptations."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a 72 out of 100 rating based on 19 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews".[5]

Roger Ebert gave The Rainmaker three stars out of four, remarking: "I have enjoyed several of the movies based on Grisham novels ... but I've usually seen the storyteller's craft rather than the novelist's art being reflected. ... By keeping all of the little people in focus, Coppola shows the variety of a young lawyer's life, where every client is necessary and most of them need a lot more than a lawyer."[6] James Berardinelli also gave the film three stars out of four, saying that "the intelligence and subtlety of The Rainmaker took me by surprise" and that the film "stands above any other filmed Grisham adaptation".[7] Grisham said of the film, "To me it's the best adaptation of any of [my books]. ... I love the movie. It's so well done.".[8] Review aggregator Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 72 based on 19 reviews indicating "generally favorable reviews".[9]


Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
  • Favorite Actor — Drama (Matt Damon)
  • Favorite Supporting Actor — Drama (Danny DeVito)
  • Favorite Supporting Actress — Drama (Claire Danes)
Golden Globe Awards
  • Best Supporting Actor (Jon Voight)
NAACP Image Awards
  • Best Supporting Actor — Motion Picture (Danny Glover)
Satellite Awards
  • Best Supporting Actor — Motion Picture Drama (Danny DeVito)
USC Scripter Award
  • USC Scripter Award (John Grisham and Francis Ford Coppola)


  1. ^ "JOHN GRISHAM'S THE RAINMAKER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 7, 1998. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "The Rainmaker (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 21-23, 1997". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. November 24, 1997. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  4. ^ "The Rainmaker". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Rainmaker Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  6. ^ The Rainmaker review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, November 21, 1997
  7. ^ The Rainmaker review by James Berardinelli,, 1997
  8. ^ "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels" Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly, February 13, 2004
  9. ^ [1]

External links[edit]