Reversal of Fortune (1990) / Drama-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for language, drug use and some sexual references
Running Time: 111 min.

Cast: Ron Silver, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Annabella Sciorra, Uta Hagen, Julie Hagerty, Fisher Stevens, Jack Gilpin, Christine Baranski
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Screenplay: Nicholas Kazan

Review published October 16, 2004

A nicely structured depiction of true-life events, based on the book by Alan Deshowitz, Reversal of Fortune takes a fascinating look into the events of Claus von Bulow's appeal to the case involving his comatose wife Sunny and the theories behind her near-fatal dose of insulin.  Was it a husband tired of having his rich wife in the way of his happiness or was it the depressed and suicidal woman unable to cope with her situation?  All answers are explored in this riveting drama, which is one of the best films of 1990.

Ingeniously, the film is narrated by Sunny herself, played by Glenn Close (Air Force One, Cookie's Fortune), displaying events for our perusal.  We kick off with her husband Claus, out on bail and looking to clear his name, approaching famed attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to help him.  Dershowitz only agrees because such a wealthy assignment helps him pay for all of the pro bono work he does, but as he digs deeper into the matter, the stakes get higher, as his continued reputation as a lawyer may suffer irrevocable damage should he lose. 

Reversal of Fortune isn't just good because it deals with an interesting court case.  It's damn fine filmmaking, with a superb Oscar-nominated script from Nicholas Kazan (Fallen, Bicentennial Man), deft direction (also Oscar-nominated) by Barbet Schroeder (Desperate Measures, Murder by Numbers) , and an ensemble of actors all performing at the top of their game.  irons impresses most in what would be an Oscar-winning performance, with such an arrogant, tongue-in-cheek delivery that makes you despise and admire him at the same time.  Ron Silver (Ali, Timecop) is spot-on as the scrappy Dershowitz, and Close shines in several key emotional scenes as the mostly immobile Sunny. 

So did he or didn't he?  The answers aren't very clear, but that's another reason the story is so fascinating.  Reversal of Fortune is an engaging drama, a gripping mystery, and a delicious black comedy all rolled into one -- a truly masterful feat that could only be delivered from top-notch talent on every level of the production.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo