A half-hearted, second-rate vehicle designed to help carry Matt Damon to stardom, in which he takes his shirt off to play a principled rookie lawyer taking on a big bad medical insurance company. It’s written by John Grisham and while it’s in legal territory Grisham’s thrusting plot dynamics carry it forward. But that wouldn’t have suited the film’s agenda, which is more about Mr D’s career progression than telling a decent story. So as well as legal drama we have rather a lot of sub-plot in which Damon does the amorous hokey-cokey with the winsome Claire Danes, a client worth bending his professional ethics for. Other ornaments in this enjoyably decorated firmament include Danny De Vito as a squawking legal factotum called Deck Shifflet (full marks for that name, Mr Grisham) and Jon Voight as a bruising lawyer with “the man” engraved where his soul should be. It’s solid in the courtroom, shaky pretty much everywhere else, though Damon’s role is well delineated – he’s a rookie and he quite properly doesn’t have all the answers. The director’s credit goes to Francis Ford Coppola, who claims he read the book and asked to direct the film. Though it’s hard to shake the suspicion that this is strictly gun-for-hire work.
© Steve Morrissey 1998