John Grisham books make entertaining films

I ranked all of the films based on John Grisham books. All are worth watching.

The Pelican Brief — One of my favorite films ever, this partners Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts as a reporter and young law student who unravel the mystery of the killings of two Supreme Court justices. A riveting book and an excellent adaptation, the story starts with the murders, runs through the murder of Roberts’ professor lover (Sam Shepard) who had clerked for one of the dead judges; a chase and a killing in New Orleans; and a dangerous investigation in Washington. The supporting cast includes John Lithgow as Washington’s editor; James B. Sikking as the FBI director; Robert Culp as the President; Tony Goldwyn as the evil chief-of-staff; Stanley Tucci (then unknown) as the assassin; and an actor nobody knows named Anthony Heald, who is in several Grisham-adapted films (look it up).

Runaway Jury – Another of my favorites, this one also Gene Hackman along with his former roommate, Dustin Hoffman, as lawyers on opposite sides of a gun case set in New Orleans. John Cusack and Rachel Weisz star as the couple that is trying to manipulate a guilty verdict against the gun company.

The Client – A cocky, young boy, Mark Sway, who witnesses the suicide of a mob lawyer, becomes the target of both the bad guys and the cops. Showing gumption and smarts, the kid hires a struggling lawyer (Susan Sarandon) to represent and protect him and his family. Tommy Lee Jones plays the ambitious, sanctimonious prosecutor who badgers the kid; Mary-Louise Parker plays Mark’s mother; and Anthony LaPaglia plays the hit man. As good as the stars are, the movie belongs to Brad Renfro, the kid who plays Mark Sway, who died of a drug overdose at age 25.

A Time to Kill – The first Grisham novel but not the first movie adapted (that was The Firm), this one stars Matthew McConaughey (then unknown) as Jake, a young, struggling, small-town lawyer in Mississippi who finds himself in the middle of a controversial case. A couple of drunk brothers kidnap a 9-year-old black girl, rape her and throw her off a bridge. After the guys get arrested, the girl’s father (played by Samuel L. Jackson) kills the brothers and is on trial for murder. Sandra Bullock plays Jake’s unpaid investigator with help from Oliver Platt as another local ambulance chaser.  The supporting cast includes Kevin Spacey as the ambitious prosecutor, Donald Sutherland as Jake’s discredited mentor, Chris Cooper (then unknown) as a cop who lost a leg in the shooting, and Ashley Judd as Jake’s wife.

The Rainmaker – Matt Damon plays a recent law school graduate who lands at a small firm with a bad reputation, taking on a client (Mary Kay Place) whose son died of cancer after being denied experimental treatment from the evil insurance company. This is a completely different story from the book which (if I remember it correctly) was about lung cancer, smoking, and taking on the evil tobacco company. With Claire Danes as the love interest, Jon Voight as the obnoxious counsel for the insurer, and Danny DeVito as the ambulance chaser who helps Rudy Baylor (Damon) make the case.

The Firm — Not nearly as good as the book that made Grisham famous, this blockbuster starred Tom Cruise as Mitch, a recent Harvard law school graduate who lands at a law firm in Memphis. Unknown to him, the firm is shady and represents a Chicago mob family. The FBI targets him to get the goods on his new firm. It all breaks up his marriage to Jeanne Tripplehorn. It’s a race to justice as Mitch tries to juggle his oath, his freedom, and his safety. The movie changes the ending of the book (which is too bad), and it’s all very tense. The supporting cast includes Gene Hackman (notice a pattern here?) as Mitch’s boss; Ed Harris as the FBI agent; David Strathairn as Mitch’s convict brother; Holly Hunter as the gum-chewing secretary to a dead investigator (Gary Busey); Wilford Brimley as the firm’s head of security; and Hal Holbrook as the head of the sleazy law firm.

The Chamber – Chris O’Donnell, fresh out of law school, decides to try to keep his grandfather (Gene Hackman) from the electric chair for killing several members of a family in a anti-Semitic and racially-inspired bombing in the South. It’s a race against the clock as new evidence comes to light. There’s a nifty performance from Faye Dunaway as Hackman’s long-estranged daughter.

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