Gingerbread Man [1998]

When released in 1997, The Gingerbread Man was the only John Grisham movie that did not use one of the popular novelist's bestsellers as its inspiration. Rather, it's based on an original screenplay by Grisham that displays the author's familiar flair for Southern characters and settings within a labyrinthine plot propelled by his trademark narrative twists and turns. Sporting a spot-on Georgian accent, Kenneth Branagh plays a Savannah attorney who comes to the assistance of a troubled woman (Embeth Davidtz) and finds himself enmeshed in a scenario involving the woman's father (Robert Duvall) that grows increasingly complex and dangerous, where nothing, of course, is really as it seems. It's a totally absorbing movie made in the modern film-noir tradition; what's most interesting here (and most underrated by critics at the time) is the combination of Grisham's mainstream mystery and the offbeat style of maverick director Robert Altman. Despite a battle with executives that nearly caused Altman to disown the film, The Gingerbread Man demonstrates the director's skill in bringing a fresh, characteristically offbeat approach to conventional material, especially in the use of a threatening hurricane to hold the plot in a state of dangerous urgency. Unfortunately overlooked during its theatrical release, this intelligent thriller provides a fine double bill with Francis Coppola's film of Grisham's The Rainmaker. --Jeff Shannon

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