Sep. 11, 2005
Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Grade: 57/100

Director: Barbet Schroeder
Stars: Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Ron Silver

What it's about. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) defends notorious blue-blood Claus von Bulow (Jeremy Irons), convicted of attempting to murder his wealthy and now comatose wife, Sunny (Glenn Close). Did Claus do it? Can he get a new trial?

How others will see it. Glenn Close fans will be slightly disappointed. She really doesn't have that many scenes, although most of these are challenging, something that should be taken into account.

Two winners came from this movie. The first is Jeremy Irons, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his engaged, polite, but awkward and sometimes unsettling performance as Claus, the man left holding the bag when his wife flatlined. The evidence against him seems formidable, but this brings us to our second winner, Alan Dershowitz.

Reversal of Fortune suggests that at $300 an hour, even in 1982 dollars, Dershowitz is a rich man's bargain. Look what you get. A whole class fell of ambitious, brainy, resourceful, competitive Harvard law students, all eager to prove their worth to future employers by helping to win an 'impossible' case.

And whaddaya know, it turns out that the evidence against Claus was dubious after all. The Perry Mason syndrome, in which the client is innocent and framed, emerges again. In most trials, the prosecutor has the advantages and resources. Evidence is distorted. It's a game played to win, and if something doesn't fit, it is ignored or twisted by the prosecution, since the target, the defendant, has been selected. The husband must be guilty. He has the motive, and he was there.

But with Alan and his young case crackers, the tables are turned. Even evidence, which is theoretically black or white, turns out to have many shades of light and dark. When their complexity is revealed, a reasonable doubt is established.

Claus' quirky but oddly endearing personality, as presented by Irons and the director, is likely to win over the viewer. The sheer numbers of Dershowitz' staff/class, and their diverse and brief appearances, provide further incentive to root for the home team (Reversal! Reversal!)

But, as Sunny's spirit informs us, there's no way to turn back time, and find out what really happened in her bedroom and bathroom that unfortunate day.

How I felt about it. Sunny von Bulow was worth millions of dollars. Not a care in the world? No, she was apparently a substance-abusing and neurotic woman. Claus is also the odd character, fooling about with a mistress while continuing to play house with his wife. The only hero in the family is their daughter, Cosima, who believes in her father despite family, friend, and financial pressure to the contrary. The same cannot be said for Claus' soap opera actress mistress, who testifies against him in court.

Is anyone innocent or guilty in this family tragedy? Who is to blame for Sunny's persistent vegatative state? Reversal of Fortune blames Sunny herself, and then blames society for not wanting to accept this.