Saturday, February 20, 2016

Great Sequences #1

With the advent of DVRs and DVDs and streaming and soon, direct-to-brain interfaces, it's easier than ever to pull up your favorite film or TV show. And with this ease of viewing, I find myself strangely drawn toward certain sequences that strike a chord. Whether it's a great performance, an especially riveting piece of dialogue or just a sweet turn of events, I find myself watching certain scenes again and again, trying to understand what it is that's drawing me in, and how the writers, filmmakers and actors pulled it off.

Here's one, and by the way, MASSIVE SPOILERS are involved:

"John Grisham's The Rainmaker." Aside from kind of loving the fact that novelist Grisham has his name in the friggin' title of a Francis Ford Coppola directed picture, there is a lot to like about this legal thriller. Matt Damon plays an idealistic young lawyer who goes to work for a shady but honest legal firm, and immediately finds himself suing a big medical insurance firm for denying benefits to a cancer victim. The case of course ends up in court, where Damon, assisted by an excellent Danny Devito, tackles a smarmy corporate lawyer played by Jon Voight and, as the CEO of the crooked medical firm, an exquisitely creepy Roy Scheider.

My favorite sequence: after Judge Danny Glover slaps down Damon by refusing to admit some stolen documents, blowing Damon's case out of the water, Devito gets some legal advice from his mentor (and sleaze-ball) Mickey Roarke and gets the evidence reintroduced. After suffering through several smarmy put-downs from Voight's opposing counsel, Damon, with Scheider on the stand, systematically dismantles the entire crooked operation. Watching Scheider, at first supremely confident, squirm with irritation as he's forced to admit wrong-doing, is sweet. But the key moment comes when his testimony wraps. Scheider walks from the witness stand carrying an especially damning piece of evidence and with imperial disdain tosses it onto Voight's desk, summing up their relationship, his attitude toward the proceedings and Voight's total humiliation.

It is an exquisitely directed scene full of details that draw me back in time and again. Scheider wears a rather ridiculous blue sweater, clearly an attempt to humanize him with the jury. When Devito comes around the defense table to present some documents, he trips over his own briefcase but manages a perfect "I meant to do that" recovery.  Danny Glover's Judge, who refuses to allow his personal views to cloud his decisions from the bench, nevertheless takes some pleasure from Damon handing Voight's character his proverbial ass. And when the verdict finally comes down, there is an excruciatingly powerful moment when the father of the now-dead cancer victim approaches Scheider with a photo of his dead son, forcing him to look.

More classic scenes to come as the mood strikes...

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