Film / The Client

The Client is the name of a 1994 legal thriller film based on a 1993 novel by John Grisham. It was directed by Joel Schumacher, and starred Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Renfro.

The story starts at a trailer park in rural Tennessee, where two boys are seen sneaking away. Mark Sway (Renfro) is a streetwise 11-year-old and a habitual smoker. He is now about to teach his younger brother, Richy (David Speck), how to smoke. They are in their woods by themselves when a black Cadillac suddenly parks at a short distance from their location. It belongs W. Jerome "Romey" Clifford (Walter Olkewicz), a financially secure lawyer from New Orleans. Clifford was looking for a sufficiently isolated location to commit suicide. He thinks this one ought to do.

Mark realizes what is going on and tries to prevent it. A frustrated Clifford captures him and explains that this is pointless, as he is effectively a Dead Man Walking. It seems the lawyer has ties to organized crime and was currently involved in a high-profile case. His client Barry "The Blade" Muldano (Anthony La Paglia) is accused of murdering Senator Boyd Boyette. But the corpse of the victim hasn't been found yet. There is one man other than Muldano who knows of its location, Clifford himself. Clifford narrates in detail the instructions for the location given to him. The problem is that prosecuting attorney "Reverend" Roy Foltrigg (Jones) has figured out Clifford knows and is pressing him hard for the information.

If Clifford keeps his mouth shut, he is going to be accused of withholding evidence and faces incarceration. If he does talk, Muldano is going to arrange for Clifford to be murdered. The lawyer has figured it is Better to Die than Be Killed. Not long after, Clifford blows his brains out. Ricky is traumatized, but Mark has faced such situations before. He immediately calls the police, who soon determine Clifford and the boy shared the car for a while. Mark has just inherited Clifford's problem. Everyone figures the lawyer had confessed to him the location of the missing corpse. Foltrigg places him in custody until he talks, Muldano places a price on his head.

Mark knows that in situations like this, you need a lawyer. Unfortunately for him, he can't afford any particularly established lawyer. Placing his trust in Reggie Love (Sarandon), an inexperienced lawyer with a history of substance abuse. Mark finds that a bit too reminiscent of his hated father to completely trust her.

The film gained a spin-off television series, The Client (1995-1996). It lasted one season, 20 episodes. Jo Beth Williams was cast as Reggie and John Heard as Roy.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mark explains his relationship with his hated father as such: "That's what all the drunks say, how they're gonna get sober and all. They even say they love you but they don't. And then they come home wasted and beat on you and your mother so bad that you gotta hit 'em in the face with a baseball bat!" ... "I went up there and told the judge myself about all the beatin's, about how he made us sleep in the street."
  • The Alcoholic: Both the absent Mr. Sway and Reggie. At least she is in recovery.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Roy Foltrigg is nicknamed the "Reverend" because of quoting the Bible at court and coming off as a preacher of shorts. The film hints that his doing it for effect, not because of being particularly religious. He is not even much of a Biblical scholar: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, so sayeth the Psalms". The Judge immediately corrects him: "That's Proverbs 12:22".
  • Ate His Gun: W. Jerome "Romey" Clifford.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Roy and Reggie seem to have this.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: W. Jerome "Romey" Clifford.
  • Break-In Threat/The Villain Knows Where You Live: When Mark is cornered in the hospital elevator by a hitman who warns him not to talk to the FBI, he emphasizes his threat by showing him a picture of Mark, his brother, and his mother. Mark immediately realizes the man has been in his home, as there's nowhere else he could have gotten the picture.
  • Cheerful Child: Averted. Mark is grouchy at best.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Averted as Mark is neither innocent nor acts cute.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Uncle Johnny Sulari has been in the business long enough to suspect something when his normal waiter at his favorite restaurant isn't available. Turned out he was right and the Feds were bugging him with the salt shaker. His nephew Barry had to be firmly told "to let the kid be." It took a few times but he kept Barry from saying anything incriminating.
    • The person who has out lived his or her usefulness below knows what is meant when asked to take a long trip with some mobsters.
    • Mark also has his moments, like about witness protection :
    Reggie: Look, have you ever heard of the witness protection program ?
    Mark: Lord, yes. That's where they put you in funny mustaches and send you off to New Jersey or someplace to live. I saw it on TV. But the guy on the TV movie, the Mob found him anyways. And they blew his legs off.
    Reggie (shocked): You saw that on TV ??
  • Hello, Attorney!: Reggie Love as portrayed by both Sarandon and Williams.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Though never specified if Mark Sway was ever an idealist, his dialogue makes it clear how he views the world around him.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: With word that the Feds are right about to find the Senator's body, Johnny Sulari knows it is time to walk away and clean up the loose ends he can, to protect the family. Barry knows what his uncle mean when he won't be coming back from the drive his uncle wants him to go on.
  • Oh, Crap!: Foltrigg and his cronies share this when Reggie Love produces a tape of them interrogating Mark without a lawyer or parent present, and tells him he doesn't need either present for this. Basically ignoring his Constitutional rights.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: When Mark is being interrogated by Roy and his group, he asks if he needs one and they respond with this trope. He leaves to use the lavatory and Reggie comes in with a recording of them telling him he doesn't need one when he asks for both one and his mom present.
  • Properly Paranoid: Clifford's neighbors. They have a lot of security around their place telling any trespassers they will be shot. It pays off when the bad guys trip their burglar alarm—they come out, guns blazing, and save Reggie and Mark's lives.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Judge Harry Roosevelt who puts Foltrigg in his place and looks out for Mark's safety.
    • The prison persons who put Mark in a large cell all by himself in the women's section for his own safety.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Mild example. Mark is a habitual smoker, Ricky is just beginning.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Barry "The Blade" screwed up one to many times by the end. His uncle all but says this and soon Barry won't be a problem any more.