|RUNAWAY JURY (2003)|
|"I was under the impression that we'd already purchased ourselves a verdict."|
|Time: 127 mins.|
To say that this is the best John Grisham novel to film adaptation in a long time isn’t exactly glowing praise when one considers the recent competition. It’s not as emotionally gripping as A TIME TO KILL or as morally creepy as THE FIRM, yet it delivers a complex and intriguing story with wit, suspense and intelligence. Most of the kudos goes to the all-star cast, who raise the level of the material with their energy and charisma. You’ve seen them all play similar characters before, yet that doesn’t stop them from giving their performances every ounce of talent they have to offer. Hackman and Hoffman are the big draw here and they don’t disappoint. No one plays a soulless bastard with as much passion and charm as Hackman. He steals the show as a well-known jury consultant willing to do anything to ensure his clients receive a favorable verdict. His one scene with Hoffman is wholly unnecessary to the plot (they’d never before been onscreen together), yet it’s one of the film’s most powerful and enjoyable moments.
The story centers on a highly controversial case that has a major gun manufacturer on trial for negligence in the shooting spree that ended in the deaths of 11 people. The defense claims that the company knew and encouraged the resale of their automatic weapons, which allowed purchasers to circumvent the state’s gun laws. If they had cared at all who was buying their product there’s a good chance that the disgruntled employee, in this case, would not have had the opportunity to exercise his anger. No one has every won over a jury in a gun-related lawsuit, thanks to the talented tampering of Rankin Fitch (Hackman), and he’s not about to lose this one either. Technically, he’s a jury consultant, but his methods are far from honorable when there’s this much money on the line and a precedent to be set. Wendell Rohr (Hoffman) has his work cut out for him, but is confident he can win the case without sinking to Fitch’s level.
Ordinarily he’d be right, except this time there’s someone working the verdict from inside the jury box. Neither side knows exactly why Nicholas Easter (Cusack) has maneuvered himself onto this jury, but the one thing they can’t discount is his control over its’ members. With a little help from his friend Marlee (Weisz), they begin to manipulate the outcome of the case and are willing to throw it either way…for a price. While Nick and Marlee’s reasons are well hidden until the final act, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that there’s more to their motivations than a quick payday. What keeps the story interesting is how far everyone is willing to go to win. While some of the situations get a little ugly, the sense of danger is not as threatening as it could be. Granted we’re talking about lawyers, not criminals, so anything more than intimidation would appear to be way out of line; however, a touch more darkness would have made the story truly exciting instead of merely intriguing. That being said, the film develops a good amount of suspense through clever editing and writing that almost carries through to the end.
I won’t spoil the reasons why Nick and Marlee go after Fitch on this particular case, but it’s not exactly a surprise. The impact comes from the way it’s revealed not in what their secret is. The fact that they have a cause sort of takes the fun out of the proceedings, making them righteous crusaders instead of clever criminals. The film is much more enjoyable when you believe that they’re playing games with Fitch and Rohr just because they can. Of course, with a case like the one portrayed here, there’s no way anyone would be crazy enough to screw around with the fortunes of men who make guns for a living. While not completely satisfying the film does come to a thoughtful and appropriate conclusion and though it clearly has a point of view the filmmakers don’t hit you over the head with it. In the end, justice is achieved, both judicial and personal, which is the most unbelievable aspect of this whole film. We may have the best justice system in the whole world, but sometimes that’s not saying much.
While not destined to be a classic, RUNAWAY JURY is a clever, well-acted, high-quality piece of entertainment that engages the mind, if not the heart. Cusack, Hoffman and Hackman make this a ride worth taking, especially for those who love a little courtroom drama.