Irons is mesmerizing in 'Reversal of Fortune'



(Warner Home Video


Jeremy Irons is one of our best actors. Many felt he deserved the Oscar for his chilling portrait of identical twins in "Dead Ringers." The ones who count -- the members of the Academy -- gave him one this time for his haunting, darkly humorous portrayal of Claus von Bulow, the haute society millionaire initially accused of attempting to murder his wife Sunny, the source of his wealth. Director Barbet Schroeder is drawn to oddball, even repellent characters in his films -- from a documentary on Idi Amin to his belching portrait of L.A. in "Barfly." Mr. Von Bulow is his most repellent, and fascinating subject yet.

Mr. Schroeder does a pretty fair job of alternating between two stories here -- the surreal tale of Claus and Sunny's life together in Newport high society circles, and the more straightforward take on the legal issues surrounding Claus' arrest for her attempted murder. (Sunny didn't die -- she remains in a coma to this day).

The co-star of the trial sequences is another interesting fellow with an unlikable mien -- Mr. Von Bulow's lawyer Alan Dershowitz (portrayed as a tense bundle of energy by Ron Silver). The real-life Dershowitz wrote the book this film is loosely based on and maintained some control over his portrayal here. Not too surprisingly, there are moments when Mr. Dershowitz comes off as almost a living saint.

Mr. Dershowitz is fascinated by Mr. Von Bulow, who asks for his help after being convicted of injecting his wife with an insulin overdose. Claus is a racist and a snob but he also has a mesmerizing effect on Mr. Dershowitz, who agrees to take his case. He rationalizes that there are serious constitutional issues at stake. And he will, of course, be well paid for his work. With a gung-ho group of students and young lawyers, who appear to live in an almost idyllic commune situation, Mr. Dershowitz puts together the legal ammunition to cleverly overturn Mr. Von Bulow's conviction.

Anyone familiar with the facts of the case from a few years back -- it certainly ranks as one of the media events of the '80s -- will know as much. But, thanks to Mr. Irons, we are given access to the man behind the headlines, in all his raging, eccentric glory.

Glenn Close does an outstanding job of portraying Sunny, imbalanced, a drug addict, but a woman of old money and high society as well. The film is not perfect, but it takes plenty of chances, ending up as both insightful and entertaining.

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