Runaway Jury

Runaway Jury

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Justice has always been a lottery. Now it's a stitch up, according to this latest star-studded John Grisham adaptation.

There are people, it appears, who are paid to vet juries. The trick is to make sure that the 12 good citizens, who will eventually decide on the verdict of a case, are sympathetic to your client. Of course, there is no way of being certain, unless you have a mole in the jury room and can put pressure on the waverers, with a little light blackmail, or, for the stubborn ones, physical intimidation.

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Frankly, my dear, I don't believe a word of it.

Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) has been hired by Southern gun manufacturers to sort out a potentially devastating case in New Orleans that has certain similarities to the tobacco trials, which caused the likes of Philip Morris to haemorrhage money in an ugly display of corporate retribution.

The wife of a stockbroker, who was shot to death in an office slaying, has taken the gun companies to court for being irresponsible in their sales techniques. Fitch's fee for ensuring that the jury throws the case out is $3million. The prosecuting attorney, a local man, called Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), doesn't have the clout, let alone the cynicism to play dirty tricks, Fitch-style, although does accept the services of a New York jury consultant (Jeremy Piven), whose motive for coming all this way on spec appears altruistic.

The real story lies somewhere else. Rather than being a courtroom drama, which fights for the hearts and minds of jury members - Fitch's underground HQ resembles the control centre of an FBI sting - it becomes a more devious venture altogether.

Nick Easter (John Cusack) and his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) are playing for high stakes. Nick succeeds in being chosen for the jury, while Marlee makes contact with Fitch and Rohr, separately, to negotiate a deal. For 10 million big ones, Nick will guarantee a verdict. Fitch has a team of investigators (heavies) working for him and Rohr has his own canny common sense.

The production values and high octane performances make this an entertaining piece of hokum, although the sentimental denouement is a disappointment after the street savvy tough stuff that precedes it.

Cusack is Cusack; Hackman is masterful; Hoffman avoids his usual mannerisms; Weisz steals the film.

Grisham's imagination needs reining in. There are too many loose strands, fluttering above the courthouse. Credulity stretches so far before it snaps, but when it's taut, in the early stages, it sings.

Reviewed on: 15 Jan 2004
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Corruption in court.
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Director: Gary Fleder

Writer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman, based on the novel by John Grisham

Starring: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Nick Searcy, Stanley Anderson

Year: 2003

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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