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By Ron Wells | March 2, 1998

Director Robert Altman may have won the battle with Polygram Films, but lost the war. You may have heard how Polygram was dissatisfied with Altman’s edit of this all-star cast with an original John Grisham screenplay. The studio took the picture away and re-edited it, but after audience testing both versions, Altman’s cut won out. However, Polygram, in retaliation, is barely promoting it and releasing on the level of some art film.
It’s a shame since this film is by far the best related to Grisham, Jedi master of the legal thriller. (It kind of makes you realize what a hack Sydney Pollack really is). Hell, without some giant evil government or corporate entity, you can’t even tell this is Grisham. Altman has created a southern noir.
Set in Savannah, Georgia, Rick MacGruder (Kenneth Branagh), a hot shot criminal defense attorney, falls for Mallory Doss (Embeth Davitz), a white trash waitress who’s terrorized by her seemingly insane father (Robert Duvall). The situation goes to hell as hurricane Geraldo hits town and Rick has to dig himself out of a big mess he’s created for himself.
The performances are great. Branagh, who I want to strangle with every Shakespeare adaptation he rams down our throats, sports a flawless Savannah accent that puts every other Brit’s try at a Southern voice to shame. Darryl Hannah, as Rick’s associate, reminds you she actually has talent. Best of all, Robert Downey Jr., as Rick’s seedy private eye provides a little comic relief at his own expense (“I don’t want that drunken pervert around my kids!”).

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