Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Written by Nicholas Kazan
Directed by Barbet Schroeder
I have faint memories of the names of Klaus & Sunny von Bulow in the late 1980s/early 1990s likely from episodes of A Current Affair or Inside Edition. I was a child, so I didn’t really know who these people were or what the reporters were talking about. As time has passed, it seems the von Bulows are becoming a forgotten piece of pop culture, fading from the collective memory as our 24-hour news cycle floods us with new information. So who are these people that they would devote a whole movie about them based on a book by Claus’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz?
In the early 1980s, Claus was arrested for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. Sunny was known to have low blood sugar, and at the time of her death, she showed incredibly high levels of insulin. A black bag was discovered among the couple’s possessions that included a needle encrusted with insulin residue. Earlier incidences pointed at Claus being negligent of Sunny’s health and possibly allowing or even causing her death. Claus was convicted and immediately appealed.
This is where the film begins, with Claus (Jeremy Irons) seeking Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver). At the time, Dershowitz was regionally known but not the national figure he is today. It was his taking of von Bulow’s case that led to more prominence in the media. More on Dershowitz and how he’s portrayed in the film later. The film is a mix between Dershowitz’s team doing their investigations and Claus recounting his side of his tumultuous marriage with Sunny (Glenn Close). Claus talks about her ongoing self-medication problems with alcohol and prescription drugs giving a very different version of the story than her adult children put out there.
What I want to focus on is how the film is just as much about Claus von Bulow as it is Alan Dershowitz. Since the events of this movie, he’s gone on to become a regular legal talking head on cable news, worked on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, and most recently was part of Trump’s defense in the impeachment trials. Reversal of Fortune serves as a blatant hagiography for the lawyer early in his career. When viewed thirty years later, it is laughable when you see the transparent thirst for media attention the man has.
According to the film, Dershowitz is a flawless legal genius. He loves watching the Celtics and playing basketball with his son. His house is a pretty humble two-story affair that he lets his law students crash in while they work on the case. The team of students working the case is a perfectly balanced multicultural array, which is sure the way real law school demographics break down. Dershowitz is a sexy guy being portrayed as always athletic or wearing a robe after a shower that hangs open, displaying his…gag luscious nest of chest hair. His son, Elon Dershowitz, was a producer on the film, so it becomes evident that the movie was made to serve as a public relations spin for Alan.
Alan Dershowitz should be remembered as a member of pedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s legal defense team in 2011. He helped arrange a non-prosecution agreement that gave the victims of Epstein no justice and allowed the sex criminal to walk free. It’s known that Epstein didn’t stop his predatory behavior because when you are wealthy, and the judge slaps you on the wrist, there’s no reason to stop. Dershowitz has spent his career enabling monsters like Epstein while the film keeps emphasizing a case where Alan was trying to get two young black men off of death row. That is the Dershowitz he wants you to imagine when you think of him, not the abhorrent media whore and slimeball he actually is.