Reversal Of Fortune

1990, Movie, R, 120 mins


A cool, quirky adaptation of lawyer Alan Dershowitz's book about his successful appeal of Claus von Bulow's conviction for the attempted murder of his wife, Martha "Sunny" von Bulow. Neither docudrama nor out-and-out fiction, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE is somewhere in between, a darkly humorous, determinedly ambiguous delight. Schroeder begins with Sunny (Glenn Close), who narrates the film from the vantage point of her "persistent vegetative state"--recalling William Holden's ghostly narration of SUNSET BOULEVARD. She summarizes the first murder trial, which ended with Claus (Jeremy Irons) convicted and released on bail pending appeal. The drama really begins when Claus approaches Harvard Law professor Dershowitz (Ron Silver) to handle the case. Dershowitz is initially reluctant to accept Claus--an arrogant, elitist, decadent multi-millionaire--as a client. Ultimately, though, he is caught up in the challenge of defending the indefensible. Working with a small army recruited from his classes, Dershowitz demolishes the prosecution case, which had Claus injecting Sunny with enough insulin to bring about her coma. After a second trial, Claus is acquitted. Did he do it? Shroeder isn't saying.

Irons's canny performance dominates the film. He plays the role with apparent frankness and dignity rather than melodramatic villainy, and Schroeder's camera frames him in isolation to convey his bleakness and solitude. Claus remains, above all, enigmatic. The movie finally "guesses" that Claus didn't mean to kill Sunny, and Sunny didn't necessarily mean to kill herself. In fact, the point of Scroeder's film is not "whodunit?", but the suggestion that, in the end, legal guilt and moral culpability are not the same thing at all. REVERSAL OF FORTUNE is one of those rare films that deals with class difference in supposedly classless America, which makes for an unusually provocative tragicomedy of (bad) manners. leave a comment

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