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"Runaway Jury" - Movie Review

"Runaway Jury" - Movie Review

Genre:  Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for violence, language and thematic elements)

Release Date:  October 17, 2003

Actors:  John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Beals, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Davison, Nora Dunn, Luis Guzman, Orlando Jones, Jeremy Piven

Director:  Gary Fleder

Special Notes:  For those of you who are John Grisham fans and wondering if the movie is anything remotely like his 1996 best-selling legal literary thriller, it’s not. The civil case before the court is no longer about jury tampering and the big bad tobacco company. Now it’s about jury tampering and a firearms company that is sued by the widow of a man who was gunned down in his office. Veteran actors Hoffman and Hackman are collaborating for the first time on screen after some 40 years of friendship.
Plot:  When a family man is murdered by an angry employee on a rampage, the widow hires Wendall Rohr (Hoffman), known for his wit and being an advocate against gun violence. The other side hires an infamous jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (Hackman), to assist their attorney representing the gun manufacturer. What both of them discover in their “discovery” is a plot to manipulate the jury by someone on the inside. With millions of dollars at stake, the two sides use various means to try and secure the votes of the jury to win a case that will set precedence for gun cases. 

Good:  Director Gary Fleder (''Don't Say a Word'', "Kiss the Girls"), has taken this Grisham tale and loaded it with lots of action, intense moments of physical danger and bold dialogue like ''We love fat women, people!'' (It's a line used by Hackman when he instructs his troop of snoops, blackmailers and operatives who work for him.) This is a world of secretly shot footage of potential jurors, vindictive and manipulative actions against the twelve jurors and an involving side plot with a juror (Cusack and his mysterious girlfriend, Weisz). The two scheme to sell the jury to the highest bidder which creates the danger and greed that propels the plot. In the end, there's an unexpected twist that involves their past, where true intentions are brought to light and redeem their behavior. Hackman is perfect as the cliché of amoral ruthlessness, coolly directing his team like a symphony. Hoffman plays the old-fashioned, above-board “good guy” who is confident and honest but still has a few tricks up his sleeve. I enjoyed the dynamic storyline, but it seemed too bizarre to be true and too horrifying if any of it is true. I think the OJ trial created skepticism about our legal system and juries being bought or bribed. This story doesn’t exactly help that line of thinking. In fact, it left me wondering and sort of hesitant about any future jury duty I have to pull.

Bad:  Although the action is interesting and the acting entertaining, there are a couple of things that bother me about this movie. When you have a story about a jury and the director casts a group of actors like Nora Dunn, Luis Guzman, Orlando Jones and Jennifer Beals, I think it's safe to expect some strong performances from the talented bunch. Instead, either the editor left the best parts on the cutting room floor or there were no best parts to be cut. Jeremy Piven plays an idealistic jury consultant who fast-talks his way onto Rohr's team, then does little besides gape skeptically at the counsel's unorthodox tactics. My biggest gripe is that the story uses the movie as a political soapbox against gun manufacturers and does it in such an obvious, over-the-top and politically correct way, that it should be embarrassing to everyone involved. Hackman’s character represents the ruthless, evil, “no feelings” law, that stomps all over the common man for the sake of the powerful and mighty gun manufacturer and smacks of evil. Hoffman is portrayed as the human “with a heart” against guns, sent to represent and protect the poor widow and her son against the evil gun manufacturers. By film's end, he’s practically made into a hero – but for what and why? The story acts as if some triumphant victory was established because a gun manufacturer was found guilty of a shooting spree it didn't commit. Never-mind the fact that the murders were committed by an emotionally and mentally disturbed employee who came into the office with premeditation to vent his anger at his former co-workers. Does Hollywood truly believe its own hype? What’s worse, does it think we do?

Bottom Line:  I despise the political message in this film and the way they went about showing it. To blame the sin and horrible act that one man commits (against several innocent people) on a gun manufacturer just because it was their gun that he used is ridiculous. If we take away accountability for our actions in society and to each other, then we have nothing of real value left.