Film: Reversal of Fortune

Alan Dershowitz: You are a very strange man.
Claus Von Bulow: You have no idea.

Reversal Of Fortune is a 1990 drama Based on a True Story, directed by Barbet Schroeder. It's about Claus von Bulow (Jeremy Irons), a British aristocrat of Danish-German extraction living in Rhode Island at the time, who was tried and convicted of attempting to kill his wife Sunny (Glenn Close) by injecting her with insulin, which put her into a coma. Von Bulow, who maintained his innocence throughout, hired law professor/lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), who successfully appealed the verdict.

The film was very well reviewed when it came out, and Irons won an Academy Award for his performance (the film itself received two other nominations for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay).

This film contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: "Evil" is obviously up for debate but Claus is undoubtedly charming and pleasant throughout.
  • The Alcoholic: Sunny.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Von Bulow sees a lot of other women, which is discussed by members of Dershowitz's legal team:
    Sarah: He (Von Bulow) had a gorgeous mistress and he went with an ugly whore?
    Raj: You know, there are some things even mistresses won't do.
    Alan Dershowitz: Like what?
    Raj: I am not telling.
  • Army of Lawyers: In Dershowitz's case, an army of current and former law students, a couple of colleagues, and a former prosecutor. Justified in that overturning the conviction means attacking the evidence in detail and figuring out a precedent to do so, and he can't do it alone.
  • Big Applesauce: Since Von Bulow lived in New York City during the appeal, a good portion of the movie takes place there.
  • Crusading Lawyer: The other case Dershowitz is dealing with in the movie is of two African-Americans on death row for a crime he believes them innocent of, and he's working that case pro bono.
  • Driven to Suicide: Claus may or may not have been trying to do this to Sunny, depending on whether you think, for instance, that he deliberately left all of his love letters to Alexandra lying around for her to read. He denies this, of course.
    Sunny: How could you leave me there alone with all those beautiful letters?
    • Sunny is actually annoyed that Claus prevented her first attempt.
      Sunny: I would have been better off. You would have been better off.
  • Eureka Moment: Dershowitz gets one of these during a pick-up basketball game, when he realizes what Sunny's maid said about the insulin she found wasn't what he thought it meant at first.note 
    Maid: Insulin? For what, insulin? My lady is not diabetic!
  • Face Framed in Shadow: The iconic moment of the film.
    Dershowitz: You're a very strange man.
    von Bulow: (face half hidden in limo) You have no idea.
  • Gallows Humor: Claus Von Bulow is fond of telling jokes about his alleged crime ("What do you give a wife that has everything? A shot of insulin." "How do you call a fear of insulin? Claus-trophobia."). Also, at the end of the movie, Claus goes into a drugstore to buy something, and when the cashier notices his face on the front page of a newspaper, Claus adds he'd also like a shot of insulin, before admitting he was just kidding about the last part.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Averted with Von Bulow; Dershowitz doesn't care about Von Bulow's guilt or innocence (though he does care about the constitutional principle involved; see "The Reason You Suck" Speech below), and he knows clients always lie to their lawyers, so he doesn't want to hear Von Bulow's claims of innocence. Not only that, but Dershowitz becomes freaked out when it looks like he'll have to present his case as if Von Bulow was innocent. Finally, Dershowitz and the others on his team believe at the end while Von Bulow might have been legally innocent of the crime - certainly, they see enough reasonable doubt - he was at the very least morally guilty.
    • Played straight with the two African-American kids he's defending; however, Dershowitz does explain most clients are guilty, and lawyers pray for a client who's actually innocent.
    • Subverted with the dream he tells his son Elon about:
    Alan: Reminds me of my Hitler dream. You know, Hitler calls up, he's alive... needs a lawyer. I say, "Sure, come on over." Then I have to decide: do I take the case, or do I kill him?
    Elon: You? No question.
    Alan: I would take the case.
    Elon, Alan: (in unison) Then kill him.
  • Idle Rich: Invoked by Alan on Claus and Sunny's marriage, saying that a good marriage takes work, and those people don't like to work.
  • Imagine Spot: Alan and Sarah each give their own take on what really happened - Alan weakly explaining how Claus could have been innocent, Sarah giving a stronger scenario with Claus culpable.
  • Parental Favoritism: Claus' youngest daughter is his favorite, and the only one of his children (or step-children) who believes his innocence.
  • Posthumous Narration: Well, narration while in a coma, but it amounts to the same thing.
    • In real life, Sunny never woke up from her coma, and died in 2008 after being in a coma for 28 years.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Dershowitz is telling his former students about working on Von Bulow's case, one of them, Minnie (Felicity Huffman) becomes outraged. She's offended Dershowitz would even consider the case because Von Bulow's so obviously guilty. This is how Dershowitz responds:
    Alan Dershowitz: Look, you're my student, you, you have a choice. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do; that is your choice. The reason I take cases and here unlike most other lawyers, who are not professors and therefore have to make a living: I take cases because I get pissed off, and I am pissed off here. The family hired a private prosecutor: unacceptable! They conducted a private search! Now if we let them get away with that, rich people won't go to the cops any more. You know what they're going to do? They're going to get their own lawyers to collect evidence, and then they are going to choose which evidence they feel like passing on to the DA. And the next victim isn't going to be rich, like Von Bülow, but it's going to be some poor schnook in Detroit who can't afford, or who can't find, a decent lawyer. I think it's a little more complicated than your simple moral superiority, hmm?
  • Sycophantic Servant: Claus believes Maria, Sunny's maid, is this.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    Alan: One thing, Claus. Legally, this was an important victory. Morally - you're on your own.