October 21 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 28   

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The Jury is in: Runaway victorious

By Mike Arntfield
Gazette Writer

Runaway Jury

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 buy verdicts.

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filed by a widow who is represented by plaintiff lawyer Wendell Rohr (Hoffman), a southern gentleman with seemingly outdated and naive perceptions of truth and integrity, two factors which don?t factor into Fitch?s game.

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.



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