The Runaway Jury
don't go to a film based on a John Grisham novel looking for deep insights or
subtlety. Grisham is a firm believer in crisp legal thrillers where
everything is drawn in broad strokes. The good guys are very good and
guys are just plain evil. Arguments are made in black and white.
You know who you're supposed to be rooting for, and though he sometimes toys
with us, you can pretty safely bet that righteousness will be at least
1996 novel The Runaway Jury was a good bracing read, though, and it
had a story that was tailor made for the big screen. Oh, a little
tinkering was done in bringing the story to the cinemas. The evil
organization at the heart of the plot has been shifted from a callous
tobacco cooperative to a callous gun cooperative. The setting has been
moved from Macon to New Orleans. That's about the extent of the
Which is okay, because the storyline was ready for the bigs anyway. It is
very simple. There is a huge civil suit against a group of firearms
companies. Losing the case would cause huge repercussions and set
precedent which could destroy the industry. So the companies spend a
fortune to hire a "jury specialist" named Rankin Fitch.
Fitch is a cold-hearted win-at-all-costs guy who willing to do anything to
assure that he win over the jury. He and his people are will use
bugging, blackmail, mental and physical intimidation to get a Not Guilty
On the other side,
Dustin Hoffman plays Wendell Rohr. Rohr is an old-school southern
litigator who believes in the sanctity of the law and wants to win the case
on the merits of his argument.
wild card thrown into the situation comes when a mysterious woman contacts
both sides saying that she has control of the jury. She will promise a
victory, for a price. The woman turns out to be Marlee, the girlfriend
of Nicholas Easter (John Cusack) a videogame store clerk who has manipulated
his way onto the jury.
Marlee and Nick cause the jurors to act erratically to prove they are
serious. Soon the twelve are saying the pledge of allegiance in the
beginning of the day, having lunch out in local restaurants, getting jurors
removed. Fitch has his henchmen try to intimidate the schemers at the
same time as he negotiates with them. Rohr still believes that justice
will prevail, but as things look bleaker and bleaker for his case, he
becomes more and more tempted to join the bidding.
Cusack's regular Joe persona helps to get the audience to root for Nick.
He may be doing something that is at least illegal and perhaps immoral, but
he still seems a sympathetic character. You can see why the other
eleven jurors would react to him so strongly. Weisz also does terrific
work at making Marlee a complex character, at times confident and at times
insecure about what they are doing.
is amazing that after all these years, this is the first time that Hoffman
and Hackman have worked together. Even now, they have only one short
scene in a men's room where they actually speak to each other, but what a
scene. The two legends stare each other down, Hoffman trying to use
honesty and honor while Hackman oozes snaky indifference. It is by far
the best scene in terms of acting in the film, and this film has a lot of
film has an exceptionally deep cast, so deep, in fact, that they could bring
in 80s movie star Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) as a juror and only
give her one line, and a pretty unimportant line at that. Other solid
journeymen like Bill Nunn, Luis Guzman, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Leland
Orser, Joanna Going and Nora Dunn do good jobs of fleshing out some kind of
story speeds on at a breathless pace as the twists and turns intensfy.
The ending is not as surprising as the filmmakers claim, in fact, it seems
pretty inevitable, but it is a satisfying resolution. That and a
stellar cast help to make The Runaway Jury the most enjoyable Grisham
film in years.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright © 2003 PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved.
Posted: October 26, 2003.