1990’s Reversal of Fortune is a chilling little mystery about arguing the facts and arguing the truth. It is about finding the truth, if there is any, between the biased testimonies of the parties involved and weeding through the nonsense and ego to find some reality. In the end, Reversal of Fortune leaves the audience to make up their own minds and to come to their own conclusions.
Directed by Iranian-born Barbet Schroeder (Single White Female, Kiss of Death), Reversal of Fortune is essentially a black comedy-drama. Based on the book by Alan Dershowitz, the film takes us through the true life story of Sunny von Bulow and the attempted murder trial of her husband, Claus von Bulow.
Claus von Bulow is played to sweet, snide perfection by the icy Jeremy Irons. Irons, in a Best Actor-winning performance, brings such calculating energy to von Bulow that the audience finds themselves wishing him to be guilty because he just looks and sounds so guilty. The facts, however, appear to say something different…if indeed we are ever given the facts.
The beauty of Irons’ performance is that he appears to inhabit Claus von Bulow and fill him with steely sarcasm and smooth resolve. He is so cold that it becomes difficult to believe his version of the events involving his wife, Sunny. It also becomes difficult to imagine such a seemingly evil presence is totally innocent of, well, anything at all ever.
Sunny von Bulow, played by Glenn Close, tells her story in flashbacks and the film’s narrative. She lays, instead, in a permanent coma while the narrative in her head guides us through her version of the events. It turns out that Sunny, at least according to Claus’ side of the story, may well be just as icy and just as removed as he is. Their marriage is certainly an interesting one, showing a tentative love that began on a rocky foundation and will inevitably end the same way. Infidelity would be the order of the day for the von Bulow marriage and time would tell if it would also be its death knell.
Ron Silver is tremendous as attorney Alan Dershowitz. He brings a classic heroic style to the role, delivering some tremendous lines and sections of dialogue. Dershowitz is given the unenviable task of defending von Bulow in the attempted murder trial. At first, he tentatively asserts that Claus is most likely guilty, but as the story progresses and more factual evidence is revealed, Dershowitz starts to really believe in his client. Whether or not he should is, of course, the entirety of the narrative as it shines in its incompleteness.
The film is deliciously dark and steaming with icy cold sarcasm. Irons is a chilling delight, as is Glenn Close, and Ron Silver somehow ties it all together with the best performance of his career. The direction is compelling as it takes it through the lives of these wealthy and bored socialites, only to leave us with more questions than answers by the time the film ends. Reversal of Fortune wraps up just as it should, however, leaving a little bit of frost on the screen.