ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
The Jury is in: Runaway victorious
By Mike Arntfield
Starring: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Gary Fleder
20th Century Fox/2003
JUROR MEETS MYSTERIOUS HOT CHICK. Nick (John Cusack) and
Marlee (Rachel Weisz) face off in Runaway Jury.
On the topic of the jury system, it has been said only a fool
would trust their fate to 12 people who weren?t smart enough
to get their way out of jury duty. In Runaway Jury, however,
the question is not how to get off the jury, but rather, how
to be smart enough to get on it.
For the seemingly hapless technophile and video game guru
Nick Easter (Cusack), this quest comes to fruition in a stylish
thriller that takes the often overwrought courtroom drama out
of the court room and into the back room, where the mighty
dollar reigns supreme.
With the culturally lush and visually scintillating city of
New Orleans as the backdrop, director Gary Fleder (Don?t Say
a Word, Kiss the Girls) takes the viewer into a world where
jury ?consultant? Rankin Fitch (Hackman) and his defense team
of con-artists practice intimidation and a general spectrum
of Orwellian surveillance and jury-tampering techniques to
In this case, the verdict up for grabs is in a civil trial
stemming from a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by a widow
who is represented by plaintiff lawyer Wendell Rohr (Hoffman),
a southern gentleman with seemingly outdated and naive perceptions
of truth and integrity, two factors which don?t factor into
Unlike many of the John Grisham novels adapted for the screen,
Runaway Jury is a refreshing departure from the often formulaic
and cookie-cutter narratives found in its predecessors The
Firm, The Rainmaker, The Client and their ilk. This is possibly
because much of the film represents a reworking, rather than
a regurgitation, of the original novel.
The monolithic tobacco company as the corporate bad guy, for
instance, being replaced in the film by a morally indifferent
firearms manufacturer headed by a Second Amendment chanting
miser is the main departure from the originally written story.
While fanatical Grisham purists will no doubt find fault with
this marked change in the storyline, the premise serves to
create a more timely and dramatic tale ? la Bowling for Columbine.
To this same end, the film has an unquestionably political
agenda, tapping into a waxing public distaste for gun culture
while conveying a strongly liberal, pro-gun control agenda.
At the same time, the film effectively steers clear of the
clich?d ?little guy versus the corporation? motif worked to
death in films like Erin Brockovich and instead focuses more
intently on the proverbial chess game between Hackman?s character
and his unforeseen adversary played by Rachel Weisz.
All the cast members turn in powerful performances in Jury,
with Hackman in particular brilliantly conveying the overbearing
and villainous cynic.
Hoffman also emerges out of pseudo-obscurity and a series
of recent, lesser-known productions as an ingratiating and
morally pious man tortured by his personal passion for the
case. Despite a few less-than-subtle metaphors, such as the
jury foreman being blind (like justice itself, of course) and
a few failed attempts at humour, the film rarely falters and
is a well-crafted and provocative work.
After a barrage of foolish films ranging from The Juror to
Jury Duty, Runaway Jury represents a long-overdue pallet-cleansing,
where the viewers actually get some justice for their money.