Branagh is a boozy, womanising and selfishly successful attorney Rick Magruder, duped by a pretty face (and body) into helping trailer-park girl Mallory Doss (Davidtz) re-commit her wacko pop (Duvall), who may just be sitting on a pile of money, to the asylum. All, of course, is not what it seems.
Curiously fusing the contrasting talents of director Altman, star Branagh and pop-novelist turned screenwriter John Grisham, this is a moderately gripping lawyer-in-peril drama set in the writer's sweaty backwater neighbourhood of the Deep South. Altman's efforts to set the familiar brew apart from its brethren are readily apparent as he shoots the movie in a drab, washed-out look - all mottled browns, clouded skies and teeming rain - scruffying-up his leads into realistic shapes and crowding his slow scenes with dialogue rather than silly action.
For much of the time it's all rather effective. Branagh delivers sterling everyman paranoia in the boozy, womanising and selfishly successful attorney Rick Magruder, duped by a pretty face (and body) into helping trailer-park girl Mallory Doss (Davidtz) re-commit her wacko pop (Duvall), who may just be sitting on a pile of money, to the asylum. All, of course, is not what it seems and we're route one for one of those supposedly unforseeable twists.
Along the way Altman teases a set of fine performances from his left-field casting: Daryl Hannah as a frumpy brunette legal assistant; Tom Berenger as a lowlife sailor; Duvall, with nary a line, the religious cuckoo; and best of all Robert Downey Jr. as Magruder's sleazy investigator. That the film concocts a real sense of mystery is down to this concentration on character and a bravura approach to visual signposting - as Magruder's life disintegrates, a brooding storm spills in from the Gulf. By the time his kids are snatched, all is set for a humdinger finale.
But as the knots unravel and the truth outs, the direction we're heading becomes painfully apparent. All the hard work coming to little more than a bluster of movie cliché? bluffs and double bluffs. You have to commend Altman, though, for having the bottle to turn Grisham into something darker and edgier than ever before
Although the film does deteriorate into a blockbuster cliché, Altman must be comended for bringing something darker and edgier to John Grisham's work than ever before.