Oscar Movies: Client, The (1994)

I can't think of another writer who sold three of his novels to Hollywood in one year: The Firm and The Pelican Brief in 1993, and now The Client. I had some reservations about the way Sydney Pollack handled the convoluted plot of The Firm, and even stronger qualms about Alan Pakula's moody treatment of the conspiracy and lack of visual style of Pelican Brief.
 
The Client as the most entertaining, best directed, and possibly the truest version of these screen adaptations. A craftsman who keeps improving, Joel Schumacher is less ambitious than Pollack or Pakula–but he's also less pretentious. As he showed in Dying Young (a schmaltzy picture with Julia Roberts) and Falling Down (a film I detested), Schumacher has a good sense of smell for mass entertainment, for what works on the big screen.
 
If The Client is not as thrilling as one would like it to be, it's not Schumacher's fault. His work is by-the-numbers: a serviceable adaptation of a formulaic novel. It may also be to The Client's advantage that its cast has no superstars on the order of Tom Cruise (The Firm) or Julia Roberts (Pelican Brief).            
 
Its story concerns an 11-year-old boy, Mark (Brad Renfro), who while sneaking a cigarette in the wood behind his family's trailer, is inadvertently drawn to an intrigue. A suicidal mob lawyer, with a gun in his hand, turns Mark into his confessor just minutes before killing himself. 
 
The movie's suspense is based on forcing Mark to talk, as the poor boy is up against both the fury of the criminal world and the political ambitions of federal prosecutor Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones), called "the Reverend" because he "knows Scripture better than the Lord."  
 
The essence of the narrative, however, is in the complex relationship that evolves between Mark and his lawyer, Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon), a woman just out law school–and rehabilitation. A recovering alcoholic and emotionally troubled, Reggie is a mother denied to raise her children and, as could be expected, she soon becomes more than Mark's advocate, a combination of an older friend and surrogate mother. 
 
The climax and some of the stunts lack credibility even for a suspense-thriller, but it doesn't matter, for the story is so fast-moving and efficiently engineered that you have no time to think about plausibility. Well-made and well-acted, The Client is just as easily forgettable as it is easily consumed.
           
Oscar Alert
 
Oscar Nominations: 1
 
Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
 
Oscar Context
 
In 1994, the winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Jessica Lange for the family melodrama, "Blue Sky." Sarandon would win the Oscar the following year for "Dead Man Walking," directed by her companion-actor Tim Robbins.
 
The other nominees in 1994 were: Jodie Foster in "Nell," Miranda Richardson in "Tom &Viv," and Winona Ryder in "Little Women."