Film Review: Runaway Jury

Runaway Jury

With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.

Runaway Jury (2003)

Runaway JuryBased on the novel by John Grisham, Gary Fleder’s Runaway Jury tackles a controversial subject in the form of the American possession of firearms and brings the debate before a court of law. You can’t beat a good courtroom drama and a film boasting an impressive cast – John Cusack (a favourite of Mrs B), Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz – certainly interested me when I discovered it in my wife’s collection. I had assurances this was a good film so was only too happy to give it a whirl.

The film begins quite brutally at a stock brokerage firm where a sacked employee returns, brandishing a gun and opens fire on his former colleagues. Among the murdered is Jacob Wood (Dylan McDermott), whose wife Celeste (Joanna Going) is so devastated by her loss that two years later she takes the weapon manufacturer, responsible for the type of gun that was used in the massacre, to court to argue that their negligence contributed to her husband’s death. Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) takes Celeste’s case and comes up against defence attorney, Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison), who is supported by slimy jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman). Fitch is an expert at reading people and has a team of computer experts pulling up files on jury members and watching footage of the courtroom which helps them shape a jury most likely to rule against Celeste Wood. What seems to be a straightforward tussle between Hackman and Hoffman is interrupted by jury member, Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), who has an agenda of his own, while outside court is his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who joins Nicholas in their disruptive plan.

As the plot suggests this is a film that requires you to pay attention as we begin with limited knowledge about the characters’ motives but as the story progresses things begin to take shape. It’s an intriguing plot throughout as the film firstly starts with a jury panel being selected with the Judge (Bruce McGill) consulting with both Rohr and Cable about which members they would prefer. Cable has Fitch communicating to him via an earpiece about which proposed jury members are the most ideal to win them the case. Initially dismissive of Nicholas Easter, who makes clear his lack of interest in the judicial process, Fitch changes his mind at the last minute and insists he be put on the jury. It turns out Easter’s performance was all a clever act that secures him a highly sought place on the jury while he is able to give his girlfriend, Marlee, the green light for her to instigate her part of the plan.

A fantastic line up does not disappoint. Hoffman doesn’t feature as prominently as his three co-stars so I felt didn’t stand out as much as Cusack and Weisz, while Hackman does the bad guy act very well here. Fitch seems to hold all the aces from the start and you wonder whether there is any point in Rohr continuing with the case. In Easter and Marlee though, Fitch comes up against two clever partners that have not only found a place on the jury but they assure both Fitch and Rohr via secret phone calls that they have the power to decide the outcome of the case and only substantial pay offs will persuade them to turn the case one way or another. It’s a great change of direction from what I initially speculated would be Rohr trying to outsmart Fitch’s attorney puppet, Cable, in court. While Marlee leads negotiations from the outside, Easter uses his charm to work through the jury members and win their trust.

Runaway Jury addresses the very serious issue of gun crime and exposes the greed of the gun manufacturer facing a lawsuit. In one scene we are given insight into the company’s advertising which emphasises some of the guns are, unbelievably, fingerprint free! How the court case will turn out is difficult to predict right up to the very end. Easter and Marlee play Fitch throughout and even when he resorts to breaking into Easter’s home to steal incriminating information, they simply put increased pressure on him, leaving the seemingly untouchable jury consultant at breaking point. Many questions are raised throughout but the main concern is why are Easter and Marlee interfering with the case, for their motives seem to be more about getting money out of Rohr or Fitch, and no concern is given to what the eventual verdict will be, just who pays out the most. Of course, a twist lies in wait as we finally learn the motives of Easter and Marlee, but you will have to wait for the closing scenes before you discover the truth. Thankfully, the film is very engaging throughout and its two hour length neither seems too short or too long.

Runaway Jury is an effective court room drama, turning the traditional scrap between two lawyers on its head by having one interloper amongst the jury and another pulling the strings outside. A stellar cast carry the film well throughout and there is enough in the way of divided loyalties and mysterious motives to keep the audience intrigued for the film’s duration. I hadn’t come across this one until I met Mrs B but am pleased to have finally seen it now.

Verdict: 9/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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