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USA 1990
Directed by
Barbet Schroeder
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Reversal Of Fortune

When Claus von Bülow (Jerermy Irons) is convicted of the murder of his extremely wealthy socialite wife, Sunny (Glenn Close) he hires brilliant Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) to lead his appeal  

Based on real events as related in a book by Dershowitz, unsurprisingly the film is largely given over to the latter’s assiduous efforts to exonerate von Bülow. Initially sceptical the lawyer is won over and the film pretty much tows the party line, painting Sunny out to be a hypochondriacal booze artist and all round cross-to-bear, whereas von Bülow is depicted as a jolly decent chap who perhaps had a strange set of priorities but was always a gentleman.

Made at the cross-over point of the two most tasteless decades of the twentieth century Schroeder’s film is emblematically ugly. It’s not just the over-lit pastels tones, the big hair, the padded shoulders and the lousy knitwear but rather an endemic tackiness that not even the setting of the palatial Bülow Rhode Island home can offset. Even Close, not to mention Christine Baranski and Julie Hagerty as Bulow's mistresses, are frights. In Close’s case it makes sense but the proposition that von Bülow mistresses are evidences of his aristocratic tastes is ridiculous. As Woody Allen might say, they look like the sort of thing you’d get from a fish bait store. Probably most damaging however is the earnest self-important air, once again something characteristic of the period, with which Dershowitz and his team of helpers are invested. With the exception of Dershowitz none of these performers emerge as characters and even Dershowitz himself is portrayed as burning with evangelical zeal but little else. 

Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for his performance but it is very much in the vein of the Oxbridge toff, and in truth no great stretch for Irons who specializes in these type of characters, the only variation on the theme being a Germano-Nordic twist on his accent which I assume reflects von Bülow’s. If anything, Close, repugnant as she makes Sunny out to be, gives the most impressive performance. Between the two of them and with a strong real life mystery at its heart, Reversal of Fortune is watchable enough but could have been so much better.

FYI: Sunny von Bülow lived in a vegetative state until 2008. Claus von Bülow renounced his claim to Sunny’s fortune on the condition that Cosima,his daughter with Sunny, be treated as a joint heir, along with her two step-siblings to Sunny’s $75m fortune.




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