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
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes