aaLAWchak: The Rainmaker


Movie: The Rainmaker
Starring: Matt Damon, Danny Devito, Mickey Rourke and Danny Glover
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Year of Release: 1997

The Rainmaker sees the law from the eyes of a novice lawyer, who has just entered the profession and wants nothing other than making it big in the profession. He however suffers from his own problems – morality and ethical values. Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) was brought up in a slum, where his alcoholic father regularly physically assaulted his mother and him. He is not supported by his parents and has to do odd jobs to support his education from University of Memphis.

When he finally passes out of law school, he is desperate for a job. He gets one with a corrupt but successful personal injury lawyer, who makes him an associate, which he reluctantly accepts. He is to look for clients in hospitals on leads and has to be an ambulance chaser to earn his monthly salary.


In this office 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. He knows the practical side of law e.g. getting clients, gathering information and extensive knowledge on working of insurance companies.

The first two cases that Rudy Baylor has are, one of drafting a will of one elderly lady Miss Birdsong (Teresa Wright) in whose house he rents an apartment above the garage, as he has been evicted for not being able to pay the rent. Second, a bad faith suit on behalf of a poor middle-aged couple, Dot and Buddy Black, whose 22-year-old son Donny Ray (Johnny Whitworth) is going to die from leukemia.


Employee of our protagonist has the FBI on his trial for racketeering money and has to flee the country after his offices are raided by the FBI. In light of the said events, Deck Shifflet talks Rudy Baylor into setting up their own office and actively pursue the Great Benefit (the insurance company that refuses to pay for the bone marrow transplant of Donny Ray).

In the midst of all this Rudy Baylor romantically falls for one of the clients he is chasing in the hospital on instructions from his employer, a battered wife whose husband, Cliff (Andrew Shue) regularly beats his wife up with his favorite weapon of choice which is a steel baseball bat. On one day to help Kelly River escape this life, he goes to gather things from her home but Cliff arrives and a battle ensues which leads to the death of Cliff. Kelly asks Rudy to leave, the conclusion as to whether Kelly kills Cliff or he dies from his wounds is left unclear. But, Kelly is arrested for the murder of Cliff and Rudy has to represent her in court.

Till then the original judge assigned to the Great Benefit case, Harvey Hale (Dean Stockwell), wants to dismiss the case of Dony against Great Benefit as he sees it as a case which has no merit and is only meant to slow down the judicial process. However, on his unfortunate demise in the swimming pool due to a heart attack, a former Civil rights lawyer and sympathetic judge Tyrone Kipler (Danny Glover), takes over the case. He denies the motion to dismiss the case by Great Benefit. The case proceeds to trial.


Donny Ray dies however, not before giving his video deposition, Great benefit is represented by Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), an attorney who has a knack for theatrics and low handed methods to win his cases. His methods and experience makes him Legal Giant Goliath against the trainee lawyer David.


The case proceeds to trial and Drummond tries to capitalize on Rudy’s inexperience, discredits a former employee and the mother of Donny. However, Rudy and Deck with help from Bruiser are able to cross – examine Great Benefit’s president Wilfred Keeley (Roy Scheider).


In that cross examination, the bad faith practices of Great Benefit are revealed. He is also able to establish that Great Benefit had already labeled Bone marrow transplant as a valid method of treatment but refused to pay for the same for Donny’s treatment calling it experimental.

the-rainmaker matt damon 4 universal health care 1997 movie

The jury seeing the insurance company scam of Great Benefit, heavily penalize Great Benefit in punitive damages.

However, the success is short lived because the Great Benefit declares itself bankrupt and thereby relives itself from any liability to pay any punitive damages or any other damages in future class action law suits. However, it is a personal victory for Rudy as Donny’s mother smiles and says that he is happy she puts a insurance company out of business who will no longer hurt anyone ever again and Miss Birdsong affectionately tells Rudy that she will put him in her will as token of what he had done as a lawyer.

Rudy ends the movie with a wonderful monologue about the moral pitfalls of practicing law, and since no other case in his life will ever match up to Great benefit case he retires to a life to teach law and live a good life with Kelly.

The Rainmaker is a movie not many people have heard about but it can be called a hidden gem in the trove of legal dramas. It is no surprise as it is written by John Grisham and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Matt Damon was just realizing his acting prowess when this movie released. Veteran Jon Voight gives an amazing performance as showman attorney. The monologues are insightful for any young lawyer and narration and direction is able to establish a beautiful moving piece of art. The story goes that one day Francis Ford Coppola flight was delayed and he decided to pass the time by reading the novel “The Rainmaker”, after watching the movie I am glad the flight was delayed.

Author: Govind K. Chaturvedi

Editor: Ankit Rastogi

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