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The Client by Joel Schumacher Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021

The Movie

The Client released in 1994 is a legal thriller written by American author John Grisham. The movie (and the book) was set mostly in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana. It is a mix of various legal elements and suspense with a focus on the witness.

The movie opened with eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother Ricky in the woods near the Tucker Wheel Estates. It was a mobile home park where they live with their mother, Dianne. Ricky had earlier caught Mark with some cigarettes and to keep Ricky’s mum about it, Mark agreed to teach Ricky how to smoke. In the woods, a big black 93 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham arrived. W. Jerome “Romey” Clifford, a 44-year old lawyer from New Orleans, Louisiana, is shown getting out of the car.

Clifford’s client at the moment is Barry “The Blade” Muldanno, a member of the Mafia. Clifford was in the woods of northeast Memphis, Tennessee, attempting to commit suicide. Hidden from Clifford, Mark and Ricky Sway watch him from behind the shiny black car. The drunk Clifford puts one end of a garden hose in the exhaust pipe of the car and the other end into a rear passenger window. He then went back inside the car and rolled up the window to kill himself with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mark sneaked up and crawled on his stomach to reach and pull the hose from the exhaust to stop the man in the car from dying. When Clifford finds out that his device was tampered with, he gets out of the car, cursing, and puts the hose back in. Mark once again pulled the hose from the tailpipe. On the third attempt, Clifford catches the grass moving in the rearview mirror, so he leaped from the car and grabs Mark, then pushes the youth into the car. In this instance, Jerome told Mark why he wants to kill himself. He was convinced that Muldanno is going to murder him anyway, and he has decided to die on his terms.

Clifford is the defense lawyer of Muldanno for the murder of U.S. Senator Boyd Boyette. The prosecutors, led by “Reverend” Roy Foltrigg, have not produced the body. Modano, however, previously admitted to Clifford that he buried the body in concrete in Clifford’s detached garage, while Clifford was on a skiing vacation in Colorado.

While detailing the confession, Clifford kept drinking alcohol, as well as taking tablets or medicine. The booze and pills soon started to make Clifford a bit unconscious. Mark seized the opportunity to escape. It was too late when Clifford realized what Mark did, and he attempted to go after Mark. The lawyer tried to look around but soon gave up and sank himself on the trunk of the car. He put a.38 Special caliber pistol in his mouth and shoots himself.

Ricky, Mark Sway’s younger brother was shocked by the scene he witnessed. Mark called the police. The police and the FBI discover that Mark had been in the car with the suicide victim and speculated that he may have spoken with the dead Jerome Clifford. They also surmised that Clifford knew where the body of the dead senator was buried. The FBI needs the information. But Mark would not want anything to do with the mysteries behind the suicide.

The FBI is now after Mark because they believe he knows where the body is. Mark sought and hired a lawyer named Reggie Love to help him. Mark has become reluctant to tell the FBI what he knew because the Mafia has threatened him. However, Mark decided to find the body, traveled to New Orleans, and search for it

In New Orleans when the boy and his lawyer were near the location of the missing body, they saw some Mafia henchmen relocating the body. Some action and stunts that endangered both the lives of Mark and Sarah occurred. Finally, Mark told the FBI where the body is and enters the witness protection program for himself, Ricky, and their mother Dianne. The Sway family soon retreated to a hospital in Phoenix to tend to Ricky’s severe condition.

The 3 Areas of Criminal Justice System

Police (Cops)

In the movie, the suspect was not readily shown to have a first contact on the criminal justice system nor identified as an offender. In the criminal justice system, the suspected criminal usually had the first contact with the police or law enforcement bodies that investigate and make the arrest. The police or law enforcement agencies and officers are empowered to use force and other forms of legal coercion and legal means to effect public and social order and while it was effectively shown on the film that it was so as when lawyer Clifford committed suicide. Mark went to the police, and with the FBI, the police sought the cadaver of the suicide victim.

Criminal Justice is the system and organizations used by national and local governments to maintain social control, prevent and control crime, and sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties (Walker, 1992). The primary agencies charged are law enforcement composed of the police and prosecutors, courts, defense attorneys, and local jails and prisons. They are in charge of the procedures for arrest, charging, adjudication, and punishment of those found guilty. In processing the accused through the criminal justice system, the government and its agents keep within the framework of laws to protect individual rights. In the movie, the process seemed muddled as there seemed to be more political and personal involvement by those same agents that should have been protecting innocent lives. This is glimpsed with the prosecuting lawyer Foltrigg’s detachment with the welfare of Mark Sway as he uses critical moments not to examine the merits of the case but to extract personal gain, such as popularity, as he had been eyeing governorship.

It was said that the pursuit of criminal justice must adhere to a just, fair process. The term has commonly been associated with police departments of a state that are authorized to exercise the police power of that state within the legal or territorial boundaries. Dinsmor (2003) pointed out that the first police force comparable to the present-day police was established in 1667 under King Louis XIV in France. However, modern police now trace their origins to the 1800 establishment of the Marine Police in London, the Glasgow Police, as well as the Napoleonic police of Paris (HMSU, 2007).

Within the movie, there is the active participation of the police within the criminal justice system to finding the truth about the suicide as well as the missing body of the senator. However, since the involvement of some high government officials in the case seems to be open secret as may be commonly perceived among law enforcement bodies, this has served as a challenge to serve as the basis and backbone of the crime thriller.

It may be believed that the notion that police are primarily concerned with enforcing criminal law as popularized in the 1930s with the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) but this has not remained the case as reel and real-life situations have provided enough questionable intent and involvement in the crime world. The FBI is claimed as the pre-eminent “law enforcement agency” in the United States constituting a portion of policing activity (Neocleus, 2004). In the movie, this has been not exactly the case as the FBI at most had served to be more harmful and threatening to the innocent witness Mark. It is to be noted that policing includes an array of activities in different contexts predominantly concerned with order maintenance and the provision of services (Neocleus, 2004) and while it may be difficult to distinguish the FBI from the local police, in the movie, they were quite distinct.

The Courts

The courts serve as the venue to settle disputes and justice administered. This may be said of the movie as Mark first sought for himself a lawyer. He firmly believed in fair and adequate representation and this materialized with lawyer Reggie Love. As a mother herself, Reggie Love felt an instant connection with the young mark adding up to the much-needed support the youth needs in this time of need. Experienced and determined, Reggie stood up with Mark through thick and thin as they both find ways to unravel the case involving the suicide of the lawyer who revealed too much to Mark.

The criminal justice has some critical people involved in any court setting that include the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney. The judge or magistrate is expected to be knowledgeable in the law and functions objectively to administer the legal proceedings to culminate in his offer of a final decision to dispose of the case. But both Mark and his lawyer Reggie need more than lip service to provide the truth. The lawyer has done more than what she was expected in the process.

In the US, the guilt or innocence of the accused is decided through the adversarial system where two parties offer their version of events and argue their case before the court where some countries use a judge or panel of judges, or a jury (Walker, 1992). As the setting of the movie was in the US, there is the presence of the lawyer and the jury side from the lawyers, police, and FBI. The justice system provides that the case should be decided in favor of the party offering the most sound and compelling argument based on the law applicable to the facts of the case. This was also closely adhered to in the movie The Client.

The prosecutor Foltrigg was expected as the lawyer who brings charges against an individual or corporation who are immediate suspects to a case. He was expected to explain to the court what crime was committed and to detail what evidence has been found which incriminates the accused (Walker, 1992). In the movie, the main evidence which was the murdered body, was missing, so that the words coming from Mark remain as “hearsay” and weigh little to serve justice. The prosecutor and a plaintiff or plaintiff’s counsel may both serve the same function of bringing a complaint before the court. However, it is to be differentiated that the prosecutor is a servant of the state who makes accusations on behalf of the state in criminal proceedings, while the plaintiff is the complaining party in civil proceedings (Walker, 1992). This issue is clear within the movie.

Defense attorney Reggie Love counseled Mark Sway but not as an accused on the legal process but as a witness and an accuser. The accused make final decisions regarding several fundamental points, including whether to testify and to accept a plea offer or demand a jury trial in appropriate cases (Walker, 1992). Reggie Love has to represent the interests of the client, raise procedural and evidentiary issues, and hold the prosecution to its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, defense counsel may challenge evidence presented by the prosecution or present exculpatory evidence and argue on behalf of her client Mark Sway. At the trial, Reggie Love offered a rebuttal to the prosecutor’s accusations as they both try to point out where the murdered body was.


It is expected that offenders are turned over to the correctional authorities, from the court system after the accused has been found guilty. While it took a while to pin down the guilty Muldanno, in the end, he had to pay his dues as the criminal in the case. In the end, justice was served as the last, and damning evidence was presented to the court.


The movie portrayed a somewhat confusing role of the criminal justice system that complicated the prosecution process even more. However, connections between well-oiled gangs such as the Mafia may be an open secret by now as both the criminals and the agents work in the same environment. This close involvement has made sweet music for both ends that are portrayed well in the movie The Client.

Mark Sway should have been earlier enlisted under the witness protection program but the shady characterism of the police or the FBI made the crime case more complicated to deal with.

As mentioned, there are high government officials at stake and they all want silence from Mark. Mark on the other has peace to look for, for himself, his brother, and mother, and only a good unwavering lawyer could help him with it.

Justice was served in the end but it showed that involvement in crime, whether one is on the good or innocent side, or simply a witness, could be life-threatening, a difficult challenge to undertake, and a gamble many ordinary citizens would avoid at all cost. This is a tragedy the criminal justice system has evolved into. And it was depicted in the movie giving it more appeal than it should.


Dinsmor, Alastair (Winter 2003). Glasgow Police Pioneers. The Scotia News. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.

History. Marine Support Unit (2007). Metropolitan Police.

La Lieutenance Générale de Police. La Préfecture de Police fête ses 200 ans Juillet 1800 – Juillet 2000. La Préfecture de Police au service des Parisiens.

Walker, Samuel (1977). A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism. Lexington, MT: Lexington Books, 143. ISBN.

Neocleous, Mark (2004). Fabricating Social Order: A Critical History of Police Power. London: Pluto Press, 93-94. ISBN.

Walker, Samuel (1992). “Origins of the Contemporary Criminal Justice Paradigm: The American Bar Foundation Survey, 1953-1969”. Justice Quarterly 9(1).

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