Monday, December 8, 2008

Reversal of Fortune

You may have missed the news that Sunny von Bülow passed away this weekend, after spending the last 28 years of her life in a coma. She had suffered from hypoglycemia and went into insulin shock, and everybody was led to believe that her husband, Claus, had attempted to murder her, resulting in a series of trials. Renowned attorney Alan Dershowitz handled the defense at the last trial, and wrote the book, Reversal of Fortune, which was turned into a movie.

Reversal of Fortune is quite an interesting movie about a group of very unappetizing people. Jeremy Irons plays Claus, the husband accused of murder, and it's easy to see why, regardless of the evidence, he could be found guilty. He's almost entirely unsympathetic, seeming to show no sadness over his wife's condition. Irons won on Oscar, and is quite good. Glenn Close plays Sunny, in what for me is a not-particularly memorable role. (This isn't to say she's bad; it's just that I don't remember her performance as well as the others.)

For me, the highlight is Ron Silver's Alan Dershowitz. From Dershowitz's public life, he comes across as bombastic, and full of overweening self-confidence, to the point of arrogance. It makes him abrasive, and easy to dislike. All these traits come out in the movie, as he verbally shoots down people in several scenes. There's one exchange in which Claus asks Alan who the man in a photo on the wall of Dershowitz's house is, and he points out that this is one of the pro bono cases that Claus is paying for -- and you can hear the implication that in the normal world, the Claus and Sunny von Bülows of the world wouldn't even think of defending such people. But it swings the other way, too; one particularly memorable scene has one of Dershowitz's law students horrified that he would take on the von Bülow case. How could you defend those evil rich people, when you believe in social justice, she wails. Dershowitz points out to her that if the authorities can do the things they're doing to a rich and powerful person like Claus von Bülow, imagine what they can do to the poor. It's easy to imagine the real-life Dershowitz deliberately putting these vignettes into the book to make himself look better.

Reversal of Fortune is an interesting movie about the lives of the super-wealthy, and is available on DVD.

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