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Reversal of Fortune
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Movie Details

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Directed By
Barbet Schroeder

Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Uta Hagen, Fisher Stevens

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Reversal of Fortune (1990)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 4th, 2008

'Reversal of Fortune' is based on Alan Dershowitz's book about the defense strategy he devised for English-born aristocrat Klaus von Bulow, who was accused of putting his wife Sunny into a coma by injecting her with copious amounts of insulin. Dershowitz (Ron Silver) is a law professor at Harvard, and an attorney on the side, taking cases he feels are of some moral or constitutional relevance; he does a lot of pro bono work, and is currently representing the poor, black Johnson brothers, both of whom are on death row for a crime they did not commit. Dershowitz is a brilliant litigator, which is why Klaus (Jeremy Irons) hires him to handle his appeal; he has already been found guilty by a jury, and Dershowitz is initially reluctant to accept his offer, but does so primarily because he enjoys a good legal challenge, could use the money to cover the costs of his pro bono endeavors, and because he comes to believe that Klaus was denied a fair trial, and may have even been set up by Sunny's two children. Klaus' innocence is elusive, and he is not an easy man to like; he does not seem to care too much about his wife's welfare, and freely admits that he cheated on her, that they argued a lot, and that he probably married her only for her family fortune (her first husband was a German prince).

Dershowitz assembles a squad of current and former students to help him research the facts of the case and dig around for technicalities and constitutional violations; what a great learning experience it must have been for them. Meanwhile, Sunny (Glenn Close) lies unconscious, and tells us her story through flashbacks, and we see the events from different perspectives, hers and Klaus's, as well as from the perspective of Dershowitz, who comes up with his own version of what might have taken place. We can never be sure who is telling the truth; Klaus is certainly less than honest, but then Sunny and her son Alex both regularly purchased various kinds of drugs and abused them, and Sunny also seemed to have been emotionally and psychologically unstable, and could have possibly tried to kill herself on multiple occasions. The rather ingenious script by Nicholas Kazan keeps the audience guessing, but never really tells us what we should believe, we are free to pick a side if we choose, or we can remain totally neutral. Admittedly, this is not much of a courtroom drama (little of it is actually set in a courtroom), but focuses more on Dershowitz's investigation, and some of the problems he encountered as he scrambled to organize his ultimately successful defense.

Much of the film belongs to Irons and his Oscar-winning performance as Klaus; he speaks with a cold detachment, and often strikes the viewer as being cruel, manipulative, and greedy, emotionally aloof, feigning concern and sincerity when it suits him. However, Irons is matched by an extraordinary Ron Silver, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dershowitz, and plays him with conviction and wisdom. Close is terrific in those scenes where we witness Sunny's numerous breakdowns and mood swings. 'Reversal of Fortune' is absorbing because of its plot structure, and its richly textured dialogue, and by the fascinating nature of the case itself; Klaus makes mysterious and suggestive assertions to Dershowitz that would need only to be tweaked slightly to count as confessions, and he never does really attempt to fully deny the charges against him. As Dershowitz proves, by his faith in the American legal system, everyone is entitled to a proper defense, and a good lawyer must be ready to defend even the worst of offenders, or take on clients whose guilt is blatantly obvious and try to argue for their innocence (like Johnny Cochran), and to be charitable in providing one's services to the poor, who are often left with underpaid, over-worked, not always competent public defenders.

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