Runaway Jury Movie Review

It's a sunny weekday in beautiful New Orleans as a middle-aged, white-collar businessman arrives at his office. He settles into a chair behind his desk and ponders a song in his head. He can't think of the words, so he calls his secretary into the office. He explains to her that he will be celebrating his young daughter's birthday later today, and he promised to sing this song for her. The secretary smiles warmly and helps him remember the lyrics.

Suddenly, horror and chaos erupt as gunfire interrupts their singing. The businessman instructs the secretary to take shelter behind his desk as he locks the office door. After a moment, the gunfire stops, and he cautiously peeks outside the door -- only to be shot point blank in the head by the gunman, who then turns the weapon on himself.

Based on the novel by John Grisham, Runaway Jury opens with a bang -- literally -- and then jumps ahead as the widowed wife of the businessman brings a civil suit against the powerful gun conglomerate she holds responsible for her husband's death. Unknowingly, she begins a multi-million dollar case. Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) represents the widow, and is fueled by an honest passion for the case he presents. Opposing Wendall -- beyond the attorney representing the corporation -- is the experienced and ruthless jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman).

Stationed at a high tech center disguised as a French Quarter warehouse, Fitch and his team surveillance the potential jurors, inspecting their everyday lives so they can strategically manipulate the selection of the jury. Once the jury is chosen, however, Fitch and Rohr quickly discover they are not the only ones with an agenda. One juror, Nick Easter (John Cusack), appears to have plans of his own to sway the panel, and with the help of Marlee (Rachel Weisz), they inform both Rohr and Fitch that a verdict can sway either way... for a price that won't come cheap.

With credits that include Don't Say a Word and Kiss the Girls, Gary Fleder has definitely proven that he has a knack for helming taut, tightly wound thrillers, and Runaway Jury is his best work to date -- one of the year's best films. Fleder's passion for the story flows from the screen. He paints a colorful array of fascinating characters against a canvas of explosively controversial issues. Viewers unfamiliar with the book (which hinged on a tobacco lawsuit) will not foresee Fleder's perfectly timed plot twists; in fact, through what appears to be an innate wisdom of structure, he knows exactly what audiences will be expecting from the film, and often does exactly the opposite.

Fleder also ensembles an impressive cast that includes talent from several different generations. Hoffman is, as always, at the top of his game. He creates the impression of an actual personal by tapping into his character's peculiarities without being overly theatrical. On the other side of the fence, Hackman delivers an impressive, intentionally shallow performance. But unlike Hoffman, Hackman comes off as being very theatrical -- almost over-the-top. Still, the veteran actors play off each other very well.

Runaway Jury probably proved to be more challenging for Cusack and Weisz. Thanks to their natural style and charm, they have become very likable actors in previous movies, but Runaway Jury actually requires them to act. Cusack does not fare as well as one might expect, but Weisz, who has the toughest challenge of acting opposite both screen legends Hoffman and Hackman in crucial confrontation scenes, pulls her fair share of the weight.

From a political standpoint, the film does eventually take Hollywood's ultra-liberal perspective, but Runaway Jury is not as black and white as one might expect. There are no easy answers to the controversial political topics here, and the movie does not pretend otherwise. It debates them honestly and thought-provokingly, all while allowing its characters to have emotions and agendas of their own. While many viewers will disagree with the final political outcome of the film, it will definitely spark some heated conversations that will last long after the ending credits roll. Don't you just love it when a movie does that?

Hoffman points out the emergency exits.


Comments

Runaway Jury Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2003

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