Reversal of Fortune

by criticalhit009

Part of a series of the films of Jeremy Irons

When I first watched Jeremy Irons oscar acceptance speech, I was happy to hear him thank David Cronenberg. This act also initially led me to believe that Irons merely won the oscar for previous excellent work (as the Academy can tend to do), instead of really deserving it in Reversal of Fortune. But as I researched the film (by watching Siskel and Ebert reviews of course), I found they gave accolade after accolade to both the film and Irons’ performance. And to my delight, I found Reversal of Fortune to be an excellent film, a fascinating true life story of Claus von Bülow, a seedy man accused of murdering his wife and the tumultuous legal drama circling around him.

This film is incredibly well written, structuring the legal drama to make it narratively compelling and understandable. Based on the book by law professor Alan Dershowitz, the man who represented von Bülow, is charts Dershowitz’s appeal case, as he and his law students research the alleged murder of Sunny von Bülow, uncovering more and more about the strange Mr. von Bülow himself.

As a gripping, enveloping legal drama, the film is utterly refreshing, illustrative the true artistry that can emerge from what could otherwise have been utter trash. Part of this comes from the trio of performances by Irons, Ron Silver, and Glenn Close, who are all rock solid. Close illustrates some wonderful body language in the film, playing the alcoholic Sunny, a woman who finds her current life utterly detestable. Silver as well does some good work, essentially the lead character whose anger and thirst for justice propels much of the film.

Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune - headshot

Irons won the oscar, despite his character being a relatively unlikable (balding) man.

And then there is Irons, in what can only be said as another masterful performance. Irons’ trademark contained body language is at work here, but is mined for new depths, as we can never truly tell what von Bülow is thinking. Are his reserved and restrained actions coming from a desire to hide his guilt, or just the character’s natural body language? The fact that Irons won best actor, even though he plays a questionable unlikable character, is a testament to the strength of his performance. It’s a daring role, and Irons makes it his own.

There are two other things notable here.

  1. Why no best picture nomination? Probably because Ghost pushed it out.
  2. The Lion King poached more than just Jeremy Irons from this movie, it poached his best line as well.