1994, Joel Schumacher
There was a time during the ’90s where a few things held true in the film industry that don’t really hold up anymore. For one, Susan Sarandon was able to lead a movie, as she did many times. Along with that, legal thrillers were all the rage, particularly if they had the name John Grisham attached to them. These things have gone out of style and, if you ask me, that’s a real shame. For my money, Susan Sarandon is one of the best actresses to have ever hit the screen and I’ve got to admit that I have a real soft spot for legal thrillers — even the bad ones are usually at least somewhat enjoyable for me.
The Client, adapted from a Grisham novel, certainly isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s a serviceable thriller with a great performance at its core from Sarandon. I think it would have been much better had it been worked on by better people behind the camera, notably the soft efforts of director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman. Neither of these guys really have the kind of bite that was necessary for the material and so a lot of it follows conventional roads while taking dark themes and instead of going for the throat, they back off into this Rob Reiner area of vanilla softness. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it definitely prevents it from being something more than what it ends up being.
Still, it’s the cast that highlights this picture and even outside of Sarandon they put together a really fine ensemble group. The supporting cast is loaded with ’90s faces who would later break out, like Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony LaPaglia and William H. Macy, but the central performances come down to Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Renfro. The Client was Renfro’s film debut (something Grisham insisted on, as he didn’t want an established child actor in the lead) and in spite of a few typical “annoying kid” moments, he pulls it off pretty well.
Sarandon, as I mentioned already, takes on her role with a fierceness as only she knows how and she knocks it out of the park in what is one of her finest performances. She’s strong and assertive while also harboring some deep flaws of her own and a rich backstory that she utilizes to round out her character more than we’re given on the page. Tommy Lee Jones is rarely off his game and here he gets to mix that Texas charm of his with a shade of black, although his character takes a strange turn in the final act that felt really underdeveloped to me. The Client isn’t a memorable film by any means, but for someone like me who loves Sarandon and gets his kicks often on legal thrillers, I can’t say it was a waste of time by any means.
Film #231 of The 365 Film Challenge.