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Runaway Jury

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Runaway Jury

Starring: John Cusack, Rachel Weisz
Director: Gary Felder
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Drama, Thriller

*Also starring: Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Piven, Bruce McGill, Nick Searcy, Stanley Anderson, Bruce Davison, Cliff Curtis, Bill Nunn

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

The marvelously entertaining RUNAWAY JURY reminds you how much fun going to the movies can be. Based on a John Grisham novel, it is arguably the best film adaptation yet of his popular books. The plot about jury tampering in a very high profile case against gun manufacturers has little to do with gun control vs. second amendment rights. The movie is a thriller about winning, scheming and scamming with only a few random platitudes about moral issues.

John Cusack and Rachel Weisz play Nicholas Easter and Marlee, who single-handedly take on and outwit two high powered legal teams who are engaged in their own high stakes battle. One team, attempting to occupy the high moral ground, is led by Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). Wendell is the lead attorney for a woman taking on the gun manufacturers in a wrongful death suit after her husband is killed in an office massacre by a mad man. The defense is nominally led by Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison), but he is really little more than a puppet. Behind the curtain, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) pulls all of Durwood's strings. Rankin is a legal legend, the world's best jury consultant and tamperer. His sleek, high tech research operation is augmented by plenty of musclemen on the ground. Completely and proudly amoral, Rankin has never met a line he wouldn't cross. And speaking of lines, both sides of the legal battle have multimillion dollar fees on the line.

Into the carefully orchestrated match, refereed by Judge Harkin (Bruce McGill), steps Nicholas, who outfoxes Rankin and forces Rankin to pick him for the jury. In no time, Nicholas and Marlee turn the trial into a behind the scenes bidding war. They finally fix on ten million dollars as the figure they want as their fee to turn the jury to whichever side pays first. Since Rankin is the man who lectured his clients that "trials are too important to be left up to jurors," one might reasonably expect him to win any bidding war, but he is also a brilliant and dangerous man who isn't easy to checkmate or predict.

The well-paced film, which skillfully twists this way and that, is full of funny moments, including what may be the funniest pledge of allegiance scene on record. The chemistry among the principals, as well as the superb supporting cast, sizzles. For readers of the novel, there is a nice inside joke. The jurors complain when one of them tries to smoke, remarking on how secondhand smoke kills. In the book, the case involves tobacco companies rather than the gun industry. With a movie this good, they could have made it about the toy industry and pulled it off. The film is one terrific ride, full of curves. Its twists will leave you a bit dizzy but thoroughly satisfied.

RUNAWAY JURY runs 2:08. The film is rated PG-13 for "violence, language and thematic elements" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 14, gave it *** 1/2, praising everything from the casting to the pacing to the twists. He especially enjoyed the work of Cusack and Weisz.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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