The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker Information

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

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) is a graduate of the University of Memphis Law School. Unlike most of his fellow grads, he has no high-paying employment lined up and is forced to apply for part-time positions while serving drinks at a Memphis bar.

Desperate for a job, he reluctantly goes to an interview with J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke), a ruthless 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 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 could be worth several million dollars in damages, which appeals to him as he is about to declare himself bankrupt. He rents an apartment above the garage in the home of elderly Miss Birdsong (Teresa Wright), who in return could use some advice on what to do about greedy relatives eager to inherit when she dies.

Bruiser's offices are raided by the police and FBI on suspicion of racketeering. Not knowing what else to do, Rudy and Deck set up a two-man practice themselves, without so much as a secretary for help. 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 dying of leukemia, but could have been saved with a bone marrow transplant, denied by their insurance carrier Great Benefit.

Rudy passes the Tennessee bar exam but 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, headed by Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), a showman attorney who uses unscrupulous tactics to win his cases.

The original judge assigned 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 a far more sympathetic judge, Tyrone Kipler (Danny Glover), takes over when Hale suffers a fatal heart attack. 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 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 Cliff. After Cliff is injured in the fight that follows, Kelly insists Rudy leave. From outside, Rudy can hear Cliff being hit with his own 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 preys on Rudy's inexperience. He gets Rudy's key witness Jackie Lemanczyk's (Virginia Madsen) vital testimony 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 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 instead. 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

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 movie. 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's family doctor as evidence. Legally such evidence is hearsay, opinion evidence, and a breach of doctor-client privilege. It is only the involvement of Deck Shifflet that sees this contested.
  • In the movie, 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, Rudy discusses the case with Max Leuberg, a university professor, who offers advice to him 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.
  • One brief subplot in the book has Rudy trying to get a job with a law firm run by an idol of his, however the firm steals the Blacks case until the firm's building is destroyed by a fire and Rudy gets the case back.
  • "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.
  • Rudy also discusses the cases with other trial lawyers (some of whom are preparing their own cases against Great Benefit), and one of these lawyers 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.
  • 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 offers $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 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, 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.
  • 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.

Box office performance

On its opening weekend, the film opened behind Anastasia and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. The film grossed $10,626,507 in its opening weekend. According to, the film grossed about $45 million domestically. This exceeded the estimated production budget of $40 million, but 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 reaction to The Rainmaker has been mostly positive, with the film earning an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 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." 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". 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."



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 & Francis Ford Coppola)

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