1990 / Best Actor / Best Director

Film #552: Reversal of Fortune (1990)

So we come to the end of the 1990s leg of this Best Director jaunt with Barbet Schroeder’s Reversal of Fortune; a film I was aware of purely because of its Oscar winning pedigree. As well as garnering nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Reversal of Fortune was the film for which Jeremy Irons won the Best Actor Oscar at that year’s ceremony. Whilst I did enjoy Irons’ performance I do have to wonder whether it did deserve the award primarily as he’s not on screen as long as the film’s other lead player Ron Silver.

That being said the big names in Reversal of Fortune were almost cast to one side with top-billed star Glenn Close behind heard but not seen for most of the film. That’s primarily due to the fact that Close’s character Sunny von Bülow spends most of her time in a coma, occasionally narrating parts of the story to the audience. Meanwhile Irons stars as her husband Claus, who is accused of trying to murder his wife by giving her an overdose of insulin. With Claus initially being found guilty of his crimes, the film follows his attempts to file an appeal and ultimately be found innocent of trying to murder his wife. The film then follows the odd couple relationship between Claus and law professor Alan Dershowitz, on whose book Reversal of Fortune is based. In my opinion Reversal of Fortune is Alan’s story rather than Claus’ and his attempts to pick holes in the original trial is definitely the most intriguing part of the story. Obviously, as it’s based on Dershowitz’s book, Reversal of Fortune was always going to be primarily focused on him but I feel that if anything Claus is a supporting character rather than a leading one even if he is a rather dominant presence on screen.

Reversal of Fortune was definitely at its strongest when focusing on the legal side of the story and it was the moments in which Alan and his team of students attacked the case which interested me the most. Less successful were the attempts to flesh out the character of Claus above anything other than a rather haughty stereotype whose appearance anywhere else but his stately home feels a little odd. While I do like Jeremy Irons as an actor I almost felt like he overplayed the role of Claus and as a result I found the scenes where he was on screen without Alan to be quite off-putting. Nothing in Irons’ performance ever indicated to me that he deserved to win a Best Actor award and a push I might have seen him garner a nomination in the supporting category. It’s not even a role which would pique the academy’s interest and looking at the other actors up against Irons I would’ve said they were more likely to award Robert De Niro’s turn in Awakenings over Irons’. Meanwhile Glenn Close is utterly wasted in a role which requires her to either lie in bed or look a bit flustered in a few flashback scenes. On the plus side I like Ron Silver in the role of Alan whilst his law students were a sprightly bunch and they included a young Felicity Huffman among their number.

While I’m baffled about Irons’ Best Actor win, I’m equally perplexed over the Academy’s decision to award Schroeder a place in the Best Director category. Schroeder and The Grifters’ Stephen Frears elbowed out Awakenings’ Penny Marshall and Ghost’s Jerry Zucker in that year’s line-up but I do feel that either Marshall or Zucker deserved a nod over Reversal of Fortune’s director. I do feel that 1990’s Best Picture list is a pretty solid one however I would like to have seen The Grifters take one of the places and it would probably have to be the one occupied by Ghost. Overall I feel that Reversal of Fortune is rather a forgettable legal drama that contains a few interesting moments but never really sparked my interest. If it weren’t for Irons’ Oscar win I don’t think the film would’ve been held in any sort of high esteem and after watching it one time it’s not a movie I’ll ever want to go back and explore again.

I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from this blog but I’ll be back in due course to go over the 1980s portion of the Best Director movies.


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