Title: Reversal of Fortune
Country: USA, Japan, UK
Genre: Biography, Drama, Mystery
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Alan M. Dershowitz
Music: Mark Isham
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
With its opening long shot panning above numerous estates in Rhode Island, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE inks a plaintive sentiment to this morally ambiguous true story, the case of socialite Sunny von Bülow (Close), who descends into an unexplained brain-dead coma in the 1980, and her current husband, Claus von Bülow (Irons) is charged with attempted murder by an overdose of insulin injection. Against all the odds to his trial, Claus hires Alan Dershowitz (Silver) as his defence and eventually gets away with the indictment while the truth remains a moot point. In real life Sunny died in 2008 after almost 28 years as a human vegetable and Alan would be involved as an appellate adviser in another notorious case of O.J. Simpson.
Adapted by Nicholas Kazan from Dershowitz’s 1985 book REVERSAL OF FORTUNE: INSIDE THE VON BÜLOW CASE, the film is directed by Franco-Swiss director Barbet Schroeder as the follow-up of BARFLY (1987), when he firstly took a stab in Hollywood. Overall, the film garners 3 Oscar nominations including BEST DIRECTOR for Schroeder and ADAPTED SCREENPLAY for Kazan, plus a substantial win for Irons in the BEST LEADING ACTOR race. So, let’s discuss Irons’ performance first, wearing a bald wig, Irons’ Claus establishes his ambiguity through his Englishman suaveness (from both his style of intonation and vague slyness in his demeanour) and an outward moral superiority. It is a perfect exemplar of his screen persona, fragilely lithe, intelligently elusive, and poisonously charming. In my book, he completes a more demanding and inspiring work in Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS (1988), but I have no qualm of his victory, however, it is patent that alongside a fertile career-path, he hasn’t been invited back for another nomination since, which may partially bespeaks that the academy reckons his win is quite enough to acknowledge his versatility in a generous gesture.
A much more perplexing case here is Glenn Close, who was on a hot streak in the 80s and conquered 5 Oscar nominations in 7 years, is completed snubbed here, one possible reason is the category misplacement, because Close is first-billed, thus she might be considered as a lead, however her screen-time is massively less than Irons and Silver (a very coincidental admixture), but she is superb as the rich woman who has nothing to live for, cannot be satisfied sexually and emotionally by her distant husband, stranded in the shore of aberrant medication, while Close manages to squeeze compassion out of the audience, simultaneously, her Sunny is a monstrous pain-in-the-neck to be around, Close influences great driving force for the film, not the least as the solemn voiceover narrating the story in a flashback structure, which brings about a verisimilitude of an uncanny experience where Sunny is coming back from her vegetative state. She is my current win in supporting actress race if there was any justice for her hallow prestige and consistent caliber.
Ron Silver as Alan himself, represents a more mundane facade on the case – the legal activity, although his supposedly dialectical speech can barely be convincing when one of his student Minnie (a young Felicity Huffman) threats to quit because she thinks Claus is not innocent and they should not defence the perpetrator, since it is impossible to erase the whiff of money-grubbing in the process, so within all his movements, at least one part serves as a justification for a more self-seeking cause, which is the sad reality of the legislative system, not so far away in Satan’s service. Performance-wise, Silver and Sciorra (as his fellow college Sarah) are a far cry from the elite group of Irons and Close, in any rate, viewers are not interested in their stories at all.
In hindsight, the film is an adamant advocate in defying our conception of “seeking the truth”, truth only exists in those who are personally experienced in the particular event, as for outsiders, for the most part, we cannot get an unmitigated version of truth or whatsoever. Let’s just forget the fanciful obsession and instead, try to reconcile with the world in a more pliable perspective, that is the spirit!