|REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990)|
|"Claus, let me explain something to you: the less you tell me, the more options I have."|
|Time: 111 mins.|
Genre: Courtroom Drama
Won Academy Award for Best Actor (Irons). Nominations for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay.
A real life murder mystery made all the more compelling by not answering the question of guilt or innocence. For one reason, it can't since the only people who know what really happened are Sonny and Klaus Von Bulow...and neither of them are about to admit anything. Sonny, because she's in a permanent coma and Klaus because he's not about to go to jail for any reason, especially attempted murder. The film presents a fairly unbiased view of the unhappy marriage between them and his subsequent trials for her comatose state. Desperate to overturn the conviction spearheaded by his step-children, he turns to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, played by Ron Silver, to find some technicality that will keep him out of prison. Already guilty in the court of public opinion, Klaus is relying on Alan's sense of fairplay and determined spirit to not only convince him to represent him, but to render him a free man. Dershowitz doesn't believe Klaus is innocent, however, he needs the money for his other more important cases, ones where life, death and true injustice lay in the balance. They strike an uneasy partnership, both having everything to lose.
What makes this sordid peak inside the world of the bored and wealthy worth watching is the stunning performance by Irons as the debonair, devious and utterly unremorseful Klaus. The film hinges on whether he can make you feel sympathy for a man accused of murder. A man who clearly married for money and social status and who may have tried to do away with his ride into high society. As told in flashback from both Sonny and Klaus's points of view we learn how they met, fell in love and wound up years later bitterly disappointed at what the other had become. Klaus initially wanted to be taken care of, but as Sonny's addiction to pills and alcohol made her increasingly more unpleasant, his desires for love and life soon led to interests outside the home. Close is deliciously insane and overwhelmingly pathetic as a woman who's never had to do anything more than hold onto her man...and she can't even do that right. The knowledge that she's not enough for Klaus pushes her over the edge. We are left to wonder, did Klaus try to make sure she'd never come back? The goings on remind me of an old saying: "When you marry for money, you earn every penny."
Klaus may not be the most sympathetic character, but he manages to raise a reasonable doubt. There's sadness and deep regret behind Klaus's eyes whenever he talks about his marriage to Sonny. His dark sense of humor regarding the situation is far from appropriate, but it's one of the only outlets his has left, as a gentleman, to publicly share his pain. The more Dershowitz and his students discover, the more they're convinced that Klaus became a convenient scapegoat for the anger of those who'd do anything to protect Sonny. Sonny tells her side of the story from the hospital bed where she continues to reside in a ghost-like voice over. It's the only way, as well as being both cheeky and creepy, to get her ideas and feelings into the film. While amongst the living she was clearly a deeply unhappy woman. As she reflects on her past, she is calm, inviting, witty and honest. She seems to have finally found peace, amused by all the trouble taken about her now inert body. If only people had cared more about her feelings when she was alive. She admits that her behavior during her marriage was far from exemplary, so she is at least partly to blame for the tragedy. It's a complex web of revelations and emotions that alludes to the truth, but fails to capture it.
Silver brings intelligence, humor, integrity and ambition to his portrayal of Alan Dershowitz, who gained additional fame as one of the defense lawyers for OJ Simpson. He's supposed to be the hero of the piece and yet, one can't quite be fully on his side. You want him to win, but mainly because Klaus was railroaded into taking the fall. He may have had a great deal to do with Sonny's death, however the law is the law and the state of Rhode Island went with the convenient and easy solution. Dershowitz came up with a brilliant defense, but it was just as much for his benefit. Losing such a high profile case would put a major damper on his career. The fact that neither of the leads is portrayed as entirely honorable is what makes the proceedings so damn fun. Silver and Irons play wonderfully off each other. It's their relationship, more than the legal antics that keep this film interesting. If you're unfamiliar with the real life scandal, then check this out. It's an eye-opening view of privilege, power and the type of legal defense money can buy. It's worth it for Irons performance alone.