Few stories caught our attention like the made-for-tabloid tale of Sunny von Bülow, the rich aristocrat who slipped forever from consciousness and whose husband, Claus, was accused of attempted murder. The seesaw of uncertainty about Claus’ actions is the fulcrum of Reversal of Fortune, Barbet Schroeder’s (Barfly) intermittently brilliant take on a bizarre, sad relationship played out in the grand but chilly halls of Newport.

The film’s cool eeriness is largely a result of the narrative frame, provided by Sunny (Glenn Close) speaking from beyond the coma (making this movie ideal for a video-rental double bill with Sunset Boulevard). It’s also a function of Jeremy Irons’ Oscar-winning, gloriously reptilian portrayal of Claus, as well as the script’s throwaway black humor. An unintended strangeness, however, is inflicted by the thuddingly ordinary and self-serving segments concerning Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer who successfully appealed Claus’ initial conviction and who wrote the book on which this film is based. (Dershowitz’s son was a coproducer.) It all adds up to a certain schizophrenia, a personality split between TV-movie-of-the-week conventionality and wickedly slippery intelligence. B+

Reversal of Fortune
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