Eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his little brother, Ricky, are smoking cigarettes in the woods near their home when they encounter Mob lawyer Jerome "Romey" Clifford. Clifford tells Mark that he is about to kill himself to avoid being murdered by Barry "The Blade" Muldano, the nephew of notorious mob kingpin Johnny Sulari. Ricky becomes catatonic after witnessing the suicide and is hospitalized. Authorities–and the Mob–realize that Clifford may have told Mark where a Louisiana senator who was murdered by Muldano is buried.
Mark meets Regina "Reggie" Love, a lawyer and recovering alcoholic, who agrees to represent him. They quickly run afoul of "Reverend" Roy Foltrigg, a celebrated and vain US Attorney who is using the case as a springboard for his political ambitions. In the meantime, it is revealed that Sulari never authorized Muldano to kill the senator and wants Muldano to uncover how much the boys know. Muldano is also ordered to move the body, but currently he is unable to because it is buried in Clifford's boathouse, and police are still on the property investigating his suicide.
Foltrigg continues to use legal means to get Mark to reveal where the body is hidden, while Sulari orders Muldano to kill the children and Reggie. He also orders the body to be moved once the investigation at Clifford's home is concluded. Mark is threatened in a hospital elevator by a member of the Mafia, and is unable to talk to Foltrigg.
Mark and Reggie go to New Orleans to confirm that the body is on Clifford's property. Reggie intends to use this information to broker a deal with Foltrigg to get Ricky specialized medical care and place the family in the witness protection program. Reggie and Mark arrive at Clifford's house the same night as Muldano and his accomplices. They are digging up the body, but a melee follows when Mark and Reggie are discovered. Muldano and the others flee after Reggie trips the neighbors' alarm.
Foltrigg agrees to Reggie's demands in exchange for information about the body's location. Before the Sway family leaves to restart their lives under new identities, Mark and Reggie share a heartfelt goodbye. Although not explicitly stated, Sulari has had enough of Muldano and intends to have his nephew killed. With the body recovered, Foltrigg is a lock-in for the media headlines he craves, and mentions that he intends to run for governor.
The film was a financial success, earning $92,115,211 at the North American domestic box office and an additional $25,500,000 internationally, for a worldwide total of $117,615,211.
The film received generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 36 critics to give the film a score of 78%, with an average score of 6 out of 10.
Roger Ebert gave the film a score of 2.5 out of 4.
The New York Times calls The Client a film "with a fast, no-nonsense pace and three winning performances...that most clearly echoes the simple, vigorous Grisham style," but non-profit group Common Sense Media warns "that threats of violence and death, often directed against an 11-year-old boy, are constant here."
For her work in the film, Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Courtroom Drama Film
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The film spawned a TV series of the same name, starring JoBeth Williams and John Heard. The show lasted one season (1995–1996).