Client is a 2008 American legal drama film starring Tom Brady, Richard Hayes, Rory Haggis, Cillian Murphy and Kirk Foster, and written and directed by Paolo Santon. The film is an adaptation of the bestselling 1970 French novel Le Client, which in turned spawned a 1975 American miniseries called The Client and a 1988 French film by the same name.
The film, which concerns the true story of the trial of Charles de Gaulle in 1944, was universally well received in America and in Europe, was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won four (Best Actor - Tom Brady, Best Costume Design, Best Set Design, Best Adapted Screenplay).
The film opens during the 1941 Turkish Offensive, and a young soldier named Francois Aroscard (Tom Brady) is injured during an artillery shelling and transfered back to Paris, where he recovers in a veterans hospital and meets a nurse, Evie (Rochelle Harris). He courts Evie and they are eventually married, and he returns to law school in Bordeaux.
The film then cuts to early 1944, shortly after the Fall of Paris and with Aroscard having recently been hired by the law firm of Ridthorpe and Clemenceau, during the early process of the Guttendorp Commission investigating war crimes by the deposed government of Edmond Bonaparte. His boss is esteemed lawyer Roger Ridthorpe (Rory Haggis), a Scottish transplant who is an idealist in the idea of "blind justice," and takes Aroscard under his wing.
Franck Guttendorp (Kirk Foster) himself approaches Ridthorpe and explains to him that state law requires defendants be entitled a defense attorney. In turn, he states that the government is going to ask that Ridthorpe and his firm defend Charles de Gaulle (Richard Hayes), one of the most high-profile war criminals from the overthrown regime. Guttendorp asks Ridthorpe to assign a young, unproven lawyer to the case to better expediate the process. Aroscard is given the assignment much against his will.
Aroscard, in his meetings with de Gaulle in the Bastille Prison, comes to develop an uncomfortable relationship with his defendant. He is repulsed by de Gaulle's apathy towards his crimes, but is still enamored with the man's charisma and charm. His attempts to develop a case to defend "an indefensible client" causes him to question his role as a lawyer, as the prosecution will have overwhelming evidence and the jury will have their own biases against the "Great Butcher," as de Gaulle is known. Aroscard begins to assemble a team of legal advisors, including his uncle Jerome (Bob Hoskins), who is a retired judge and Nicolas de Bruge (Kieran Moldose), a state prosecutor not attached to the proceedings who can advise him in the workings of the Commission itself, and this team begins to design a defense as Aroscard's marriage begins to suffer. Aroscard nearly resigns from the role when his wife is threatened by survivors of one of de Gaulle's death camps, but Ridthorpe reminds him that the law must be blind, and no man should be denied a fair trial regardless of his crime.
After much preparation, Aroscard and his team arrive in court before the Guttendorp Commission. As de Bruge reminds him, "The judge, jury, prosecutors and hangmen have already decided the verdict." The lead prosecutor for the Commission, Eubert Descaines (Cillian Murphy) offers Aroscard an option - to plead guilty to the charges, which would be illegal without the defendant's consent, and in turn receive a promotion from the Sebastienite government for his bravery and intelligence in constructing a defense for de Gaulle and for his cooperation in sending de Gaulle to the guillotine. Aroscard reveals this to de Bruge and his uncle, both of whom encourage him to follow through on the plan, but his mentor Ridthorpe dissuades him from pursuing this option, as it could be a trick. Aroscard stands up during the plea entrance and declares de Gaulle to be not guilty. The judge (Robert Hall) says, "You can't be serious. Not guilty?"
Aroscard and Descaines manage to outmaneuver one another, each managing to discredit the witnesses of the other, although Descaines earns the upper hand when Aroscard fails to have the jury replaced due to bias. De Gaulle fails to earn sympathy in a cross-examination in which Descaines manages to trap the defendant into admitting that he knowingly perpetrated many of his crimes, as opposed to the defense's argument that he was a tool used by Edmond and his inner circle. Descaines also shows horrifying footage of death camps run by the Churat to the stunned crowd, many of whom leave in disgust.
Aroscard's house is fired upon while he and de Bruges are going over legal briefs, and Descaines attempts to dissuade the Commission from providing de Gaulle's defense team with protection, until Aroscard finds out that Sebastien himself has ordered that Aroscard and his family be offered a full security detail.
In the closing arguments, Descaines reminds the jury of the hardship and horrors perpetrated upon the Empire by de Gaulle, using the prosecution's evidence as before. Aroscard gives a rousing speech, in which he acknowledges the difficulty of his position as the counsel for "possibly the most hated defendant in the history of law," yet eloquently articulates the belief of his mentor that the law is blind, and no matter what the crime, every man should receive a fair trial. He says that he stands firm in this belief, regardless of the "witch hunt" he has been involved in and says that he hopes that the world will have learned and become better from the proceedings and the revelations therein.
De Gaulle is, predictably, sentenced to death by guillotine by the Commission. However, instead of taking his antagonistic attitude as he did earlier, Descaines commends Aroscard on a good trial, and is congratulated in turn. De Gaulle stoically thanks Aroscard for his effort before being led out of the court house and through a rabid, angry crowd. Aroscard declines to speak to reporters and bids farewell to his uncle and de Bruges, and tells Ridthorpe, "I'll see you tomorrow at the office," before getting into a car with his wife and driving away through the crowd.
Casting and Conception
Writer-director Paolo Santon had long been a fan of French novelist Pierre Bestat, and an adaptation of The Client had been a pet project of his for years. In 2004, he began working on a screenplay with Georges de Ville, a French screenwriter, on a new interpretation of the book. De Ville left the project shortly thereafter, however, and Santon approached acclaimed director Jerry Patterson on possibly collaborating on the project, with Santon as writer and Patterson as director. However, Patterson decided to pursue his own projects after wrapping up Burrard, although he helped edit the Santon-de Ville screenplay.
Santon managed to get Cinemiracle Studios to pick up the project, and the only demand of studio executives was that Santon recruit an A-list star to the project to make it more attractive at the box office. Santon first cast Rory Haggis, a personal friend of his, as Ridthorpe and then cast Irish actor Cillian Murphy as Descaines and Rochelle Harris as Evie Aroscard.
For Francois Aroscard himself, Santon initially approached John Cusack and Tom Cruise, both of whom declined due to prior commitments. Haggis then suggested that Santon find a younger actor to better portray the inexperienced, rookie nature of Aroscard, and when Tom Brady was approached, he immediately accepted the part. Shortly before filming in 2007, Richard Hayes agreed to play de Gaulle and the final cast members were attached soon thereafter.
Filming and Production
Client was filmed in New York and Los Angeles, with many exterior shots shot in Lisbon to double for Paris. Due to the damaged nature of Paris in 1944, Santon was able to construct outdoor soundstages with war-scarred buildings to disguise the fact that they were not filming in Paris. Computer-generated imagery inserted the Imperial Spire into several shots. For the scene in which Francois and Evie walk along the Seine, Santon obtained exterior shots from Paris to intercut with the actors.
Santon had trouble shooting in France proper due to concerns by the government that the film portrayed de Gaulle sympathetically, and also Santon did not have the budget for sustained filming overseas. Shooting lasted three months in 2007 and post-production work was done in early 2008.
Client was met with universal acclaim. Fred Steele of the New York Times hailed the performances of Brady and Murphy, saying, "It is Aroscard's story, yes, but it is really the story of two lawyers who are both right and both wrong, about two flawed lawyers trying to serve justice in what is inherently a flawed system. Few legal thrillers attack the fundamentals about the fairness of the law like Client does." Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars, saying, "While not a legal thriller in the sense that some films are, the film manages to earn our attention through powerful performances by Brady and Murphy, a nuanced turn by Hayes as de Gaulle, and actors who take this film seriously." Nona Porter of the Los Angeles Herald said, "A smart drama that engages the mind and the heart simultaneously, a film where we care more about the lawyer than his defendant. An interesting interpretation of a wonderful novel."
Awards and Nominations
Client was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Cillian Murphy), Best Actor (Tom Brady), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Set Design, Best Costume Design. It won the latter four, while The Dark Knight took the other three that Client was also nominated for.
- Francois Aroscard - Tom Brady
- Charles de Gaulle - Richard Hayes
- Evie Aroscard - Rochelle Harrison
- Roger Ridthorpe - Rory Haggis
- Eubert Descaines - Cillian Murhpy
- Franck Guttendorp - Kirk Foster
- Nicolas de Bruge - Kieran Moldose
- Jerome Aroscard - Bob Hoskins