Rick Magruder (Kenneth Branagh) is a lawyer based in Savannah, Georgia. His success in the courtroom is balanced by his messy personal life. He's divorced, and his relationship with his ex-wife Leeanne (Famke Janssen), with whom he has joint custody of their children, is still tense. He's also a bit of an Alcoholic, and very much a womanizer.
After a party in his honor, he gives a ride to Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz), a leggy waitress who helped cater the party, when her car is stolen. Once they get home, she reveals that the car was stolen by her father, Dixon Doss (Robert Duvall), an elderly eccentric who's been stalking her. Rick's efforts to calm Mallory down turn into a sexual relationship, and he also takes her on as a client in her legal struggles against her father. As it happens, Rick's Private Detective friend Clyde Pell (Robert Downey Jr.) knows Mallory from a previous stint investigating Dixon. With the reluctant help of Mallory's ex-husband Pete Randle (Tom Berenger), a judge orders Dixon to be committed to a mental hospital, but he soon escapes. When someone starts following Rick and sends him mail threatening both him and his children, he enlists the help of Clyde, Mallory and his assistant Lois (Daryl Hannah). But cruel twists in the story await him.
The Gingerbread Man began as a screenplay that Grisham started writing just before he achieved his breakthrough as a novelist. It ultimately fell into Branagh's hands. After Altman was brought on to direct, the story underwent a major rewrite, which didn't please Grisham. Finished in 1997, it sat on the The Shelf of Movie Languishment for over a year, after a failed bout of Executive Meddling, before it was given a limited release and became a Box Office Bomb.
This film contains examples of:
- Alan Smithee: Robert Altman (along with writer Clyde Hayes) heavily rewrote John Grisham's screenplay, and the final screenwriting credit went to the collective pseudonym Al Hayes. Altman also was going to have his name taken off the credits if the studio went ahead and released the Re-Cut they did against his will (but they ultimately didn't).
- Amicable Exes: While not exactly friendly, Pete and Mallory get along well enough for Pete to testify on her behalf at the hearing to get Dixon committed. Turns out they were never divorced at all, and were plotting together to get rid of Dixon.
- Amoral Attorney: Rick sees himself as honorable, but he has a reputation as a "snake-oil salesman" (which confuses his kids when they hear him called that on TV, since they thought he was a lawyer).
- Anti-Hero: Rick is very sleazy and self-centered, and makes things worse for himself by picking up the Idiot Ball at bad times.
- Batman Gambit: Rick naturally goes haywire when his kids get abducted, and goes after Dixon, who he's convinced was behind the kidnapping. It was actually orchestrated by Mallory and Pete, who successfully trick Rick into murdering Dixon.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mallory, who lies about her father stalking and threatening her, when she's really planning to murder him for his valuable land.
- The Casanova: The main reason why Rick is divorced is that he apparently can't resist going after women.
- Defective Detective: Clyde does a good job, but has a tendency to party too much, and invite himself over to visit at inconvenient times.
- Femme Fatale: Mallory, who manipulates Rick by taking on a Shrinking Violet persona, supposedly brought on by the threats she receives from her father.
- Film Noir: Apparently Altman's big change to Grisham's story was turn it from one of his standard legal-themed Thrillers into one of these.
- Flare Gun: Used at the climax as a weapon and to signal an emergency.
- Has a Type: Rick clearly likes brunettes, as his ex-wife Leeanne, his current paramour Mallory, and the women who work for him all have dark hair.
- Hillbilly Horrors: Dixon Doss is a bizarre, unkempt, menacing rural Georgia-type, who lives with a bunch of other creepy dudes at a backwoods compound.
- Kick the Dog: Mallory's cat is murdered.
- Meganekko: Lois, Rick's Beleaguered Assistant at his law firm, always wears glasses.
- Mysterious Woman: Mallory. Rick makes the mistake of getting involved with her before he even learns much about her.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: As Branagh portrays him, Rick is meant to evoke Bill Clinton, as a charismatic Southerner whose womanizing gets him in trouble.
- Nudity Equals Honesty: Mallory takes off her clothes when Rick first brings her home, which he interprets as being caused by her distress over her father. In fact, she's trying to seduce him, and she succeeds.
- Police are Useless: Since Rick just won a case for an accused Cop Killer in Florida, the Savannah police aren't too eager to help him.
- She's Got Legs: The first thing Rick notices about Mallory is her legs, and she tends to wear short skirts throughout the film.
- Southern Gothic: It's set in Savannah, so naturally it's soaked in this feel. Robert Altman specifically cited The Night of the Hunter as an inspiration for its visual style.
- A Storm Is Coming: A hurricane called Geraldo is threatening the Georgia coast throughout the story, and finally strikes in the climax.
- Title Drop: Mallory tells Rick about how her father used to tell her the classic story when she was young, which could be seen as a bit of Foreshadowing.
- Weather Report Opening: Starts with stories about the hurricane on the radio, and TV weather forecasts continue throughout.