Runaway Jury

Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison

Director: Gary Fleder

One of the many unwritten tenets of cinema runs thus: “As Grisham writes, so we shall film.” And so RUNAWAY JURY is the latest in the regular supply of Grisham adaptations for the big screen, and any cinephiles hungry for a Grish-fix will be happy to hear that there are no major surprises here. Familiar faces, scenarios, sentimentality, twists, caricatures, and cliches aplenty all meld into an expertly hewn winning formula of courtroom melodramatics.

The two central legal eagles of the piece are not dissimilar to dozens of other characters from the annals of trial-by-jury potboilers. Dustin Hoffman’s Wendall Rohr is the scruffy but canny underdog who always takes the cases that no-one else will touch; Gene Hackman’s Rankin Fitch is the wealthy, supremely confident villain of the piece for whom morals get in the way of winning. Where RUNAWAY JURY offers a slightly different slant to most films of the genre is in its concentration on the jury; Fitch is not (as you may expect) a smug and slimy lawyer in an expensive suit, he is in fact a smug and slimy jury consultant in an expensive suit. During jury selection he makes it his business to know as much as possible about the potential jurors for a given case so that he can ensure that the people who are likely to be sympathetic to his clients are the ones who comprise the final twelve.

The case at the heart of the film is an ambitious attempt by a bereaved widow to sue the manufacturers responsible for the gun used to kill her husband when his colleague goes postal. So far, so straightforward – or so it seems. The surprise element for both legal teams comes in the form of one of the jurors, Nick Easter (John Cusack), who turns out to be a player every bit as amoral as Fitch. His partner Marlee (Rachel Weisz) contacts both the defence and prosecution teams and guarantees that Nick can guide the jury to the desired verdict for the highest bidder.

Rather like last year’s LIFE OF DAVID GALE the emotive issue around which RUNAWAY JURY is constructed is primarily aimed at pricking the US conscience and, in particular, its reluctance to reconsider the centuries-old inalienable right to kill people. However, like DAVID GALE, RUNAWAY JURY has easy-to-use characters which are clearly delineated as good guy / bad guy, and throws in ample red herrings leading to a satisfying final plot convulsion, thus enabling the casual viewer of any nationality to become embroiled in two hours of enjoyably tension-laden hokum and leave the cinema under the delusion that the world is not such a bad place after all.

4 out of 6 stars

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