Francis Ford Coppola directs and scripts an exciting, star-packed adaptation of John Grisham's novel about an idealistic young attorney who takes on the case of a lifetime. Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) plays Rudy Baylor, a rookie lawyer in over his head on a high-profile case. Opposing him: an army of seasoned legal sharks (led by Jon Voight). On Rudy's side: Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a feisty "paralawyer" who specializes in flunking the bar exam. Rudy's chances are slim to none- until he uncovers a trail of corruption that might lead to the one thing that could win his case: the truth.
When viewed from a cranky perspective, this by-the-book David vs. Goliath story doesn't offer any surprises, and it's a bit sad to watch director Francis Coppola (who also adapted John Grisham's bestseller) squandering his once-glorious talent on such conventional Hollywood fare. In a more charitable light, however, there's great pleasure to be found in Coppola's intelligent, no-nonsense handling of a plot that's every bit as involving as it is formulaic. Coppola also knows how to bring out the best in a stellar cast, and this is the movie (released in November 1997, just a few weeks before Good Will Hunting
) that signaled Matt Damon's arrival as a major-league star. Damon plays Rudy Baylor, a young rookie lawyer in Memphis (location of many Grisham stories) who takes on a powerful insurance company (led by a sharklike lawyer played by Jon Voight) by representing the family of a boy who was denied potentially life-saving treatment for leukemia. Rudy also comes to the rescue of an abused wife (Claire Danes) and learns the tricks of the legal trade from a seasoned paralegal (Danny DeVito), who sees Rudy as his ticket out of the sleazeball practice run by a shady lawyer (Mickey Rourke). There's no mystery about where this plot is going, but Coppola takes us there in high style with a sharp script, and Damon strikes just the right note of naivete and strategic intelligence. When Goliath inevitably falls, this courtroom David wins fair and square. --Jeff Shannon