a critiQal film review The Client (1994)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After witnessing the suicide of a lawyer who represents a mafia hitman, 11-year-old Mark Sway (Renfro) seeks the aid and protection of lawyer Reggie Love (Sarandon), while District Attorney 'Reverend' Roy Foltrig (Jones) plans to use the boy to help bolster his run for office.

623 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 6s)

Remember when John Grisham was the hottest author around? People were snatching his books – which usually prominently featured a lawyer bucking the system – off the shelves so quickly that Hollywood decided it wanted in, and started making movies. First up was the rather over-pompous Cruise-starrer The Firm, then The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time To Kill, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Gingerbread Man, Runaway Jury (2003) and finally ending up with Christmas with the Kranks (2004).

After seeing The Firm, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see another Grisham book-turned-film and completely skipped over The Pelican Brief. But I got into The Client in book form. So, when the movie arrived on DVD years ago, I decided to give it a go. While I remember having good memories of it, I decided to give it another look when I saw it pop up on our NetFlix® instant queue. Would an older (and wiser?) me would still feel the same way?

As with the previous novels-turned-films, The Client is star-studded, pulling in such well-known names as Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, etc. Tommy Lee Jones is a bit standoffish and aloof in his rather stereotypical role as DA Roy – thus never really connecting with the viewer. Susan Sarandon’s performance, on the other hand is a stand-out. She really pulls the viewer into the film right from the start.

Playing a new lawyer who is struggling to overcome the lost custody of her own kids, Sarandon makes the role the heart of the film. The viewer can see her struggling with the case on an emotional level as well as a physical one. The viewer easily connects with her small-time lawyer going up against the big dogs. Grisham excels at writing about the little lawyer that could, and Susan Sarandon’s embodiment of that character is right on the money.

Brad Renfro, who would later go on to star in films like the disturbing Apt Pupil (1998) before passing away from a drug overdose in 2008, got his start in The Client. He plays Mark Sway as a bratty, rather obnoxious kid. He tends to become a little irritating with his favorite expression “I’ll hitchhike” – which makes no sense considering the constant danger he’s in. But, he and Sarandon work well together, easily winning over the viewers in their fight against the system.

William H. Macy pops up quickly as a doctor – giving another entirely too-brief performance. It’s Will Patton’s hard-nosed, slightly slimy cop – while not around for a great deal of the film – that has a lasting impression on the viewers. Especially after some of his rather cruel interactions with the young Sway early on.

The Client has a solid storyline behind it, which seems to put the law to task for how it treats traumatized victims like young Mark Sway. With his life in danger, the DA and his cronies lock him up for not telling them about the details of his conversation with the suicidal lawyer, even threatening to ruin the lives of his mother and brother if he doesn’t tell all. These heavy-handed tactics are actually upheld by the judge, despite his seemingly kind-hearted intentions. But then again, Grisham is a master of the fight-the-system storylines, so this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to viewers.

With the legal system working in tandem with the bad guys against this young victim, it’s no surprise that Renfro’s Sway and Sarandon’s Reggie Love – fighting for that all-elusive belief of “good” that movies are so fond of evoking – easily get the viewer’s empathy on their side. With Sarandon shining and Renfro making an impression, an easy-to-follow plot and a solid supporting cast, The Client is definitely worth watching.

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