Reggie Love and Mark Sway discuss his defense.
This film version of the John Grisham novel is about an eleven-year-old boy, Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) from an indigent family who accidentally gets involved in a mafia murder of a U.S. senator. Mark tries (unsuccessfully) to prevent the suicide of a mob lawyer who knows too much but in the process he hears the lawyer’s confession of who committed the murder and his younger brother is severely traumatized. Mark soon finds himself caught in between the police and federal investigation of the crime led by an ambitious prosecutor (Tommy Lee Jones) and the mafia’s effort to cover it up. He ends up seeking the assistance of an attorney, Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon), to protect both his own rights and the safety of his family.
Mark Sway seeks an attorney in downtown Memphis.
While the plot of the film mostly revolves around the legal maneuvering and chase scenes that you would expect from a Grisham story, what makes this movie interesting is the excellent acting by the cast members. Tommy Lee Jones is convincingly slick and manipulative as the scripture-quoting prosecutor, and Ossie Davis commands your respect as the presiding judge. Susan Sarandon gives one of her best performances ever as she spars with the prosecutors and works to gain the trust of her client who is suspicious of all authority, and especially lawyers, because of what had occurred when his parents divorced. Sarandon’s character Reggie Love has the additional baggage of a similar breakup in her life, the loss of custody of her children, and recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Her interaction with Mark causes these issues to resurface at first in a confrontational manner but later when he realizes that she was similarly “burned by the system”, it becomes the focal point for their friendship and the realization that she has sincere motives for helping him out.
Mark Sway and his mother in their small trailer home.
Brad Renfro is superb as the kid with attitude — angry and hostile, yet trying to be protective and caring for his mother and younger brother. There is a reality to his acting that immediately draws you to his character, and it never becomes one-dimensional. His performance is even more amazing when you discover that this was his first professional acting experience. The costuming was excellent for Renfro (baggy camouflage pants, rock music tee-shirts, a jacket with the sleeves whacked off, and of course, black, high top chucks) and for his mother (worn jeans, halter tops, disheveled hair). Renfro wouldn’t have been as believable wearing other athletic shoes, such as Reebok or Nike. Mary-Louise Parker, who plays Renfro’s mother, delivers an effective performance as member of the working-class-poor who desires to better herself and provide for her family. When Parker talks of how she faces unemployment at the sweatshop where she works, her lack of medical insurance, her dreams of a house with a walk-in closet, her despair when her house trailer is torched, and concern when her oldest son is placed in juvenile custody, she is describing the issues that echo over and over again in our society when dealing with troubled youth.
Mark decides to leave Mama Love’s place when he doesn’t get his way.
And of course the villains, led by Anthony LaPaglia, are suitably nasty, mean, and sleazy. Casting director Mali Finn deserves accolades for putting together such a fine ensemble, and for discovering Brad Renfro, who became one of our most promising young actors until his untimely death. (See also reviews for The Cure and Sleepers)
Boy, would I like to chuck this place!
This has to be the scene after the prosecutors are successful in placing Mark in isolated juvenile custody. In the struggle to arrest him, one of the arresting officer’s wallet falls on the ground and the contents spill out. During the ensuing commotion, Mark was able to grab his Visa card and stash it in his All Star high top. At the juvenile hall, you see him lying on the bed in despair, but he is soon cheered up when he uses his one allowed telephone call to place an order of 20 pizzas on the cop’s credit card.
Mark pulls the credit card from his black high top chucks. Don’t leave home without them!
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