20th Century Fox, October 2003
Starring Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
Hackman, Hoffman, Cusack and Weisz bring John Grisham's legal thriller THE RUNAWAY JURY to life. The opening scene begins with a horrific massacre at a New Orleans brokerage firm. A disgruntled day trader goes on a shooting rampage and takes the lives of eleven people. The widow of one of the victims, Jacob Woods (Dylan McDermott) brings a wrongful death lawsuit against the gun manufacturer.
Two years later, the jury selection is about to begin on a case with huge stakes for both gun sellers and antigun activists alike.
Liberal lawyer, Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) represents the plaintiff Celeste Woods (Joanna Goings). The southern bred Rohr hires novice jury specialist Lawrence Green (Jeremy Piven) the day the jury selection begins. Following their homespun morals and gut instincts, they are up against big money and big legal guns.
The attorney for the defendants, the Vicksburg Gun Company, is the high powered Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison) aided by the well paid, high-tech, hotshot jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman). Fitch will cross any privacy boundary, employ any method to uncover the secrets of these jurors. His means are high tech surveillance, deep background checks and financial profiles. He will do whatever it takes, including blackmail and jury tampering, to swing the verdict his way, because "Trials are too important to be decided by juries."
Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), a New Orleans video game store manager, answers a jury summons. The affable Nick tries his best to avoid being selected for this jury while Fitch and his investigators, watching the voir dire by hidden camera, encounter problems with Juror No. 9. He's a mystery man with no background. Rankin Fitch knows every jury has a "loose end" and Nick Easter is it.
Inside the courtroom on the first day of trial, both attorneys receive an envelope from the bailiff delivered by a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Rachel Weisz) offering them a "Jury for Sale" to the highest bidder. Poker faced, both attorneys proceed without reaction since neither side can afford a mistrial. As events unfold, the mystery woman proves she does indeed have the power to control the verdict.
This tale is a brilliantly plotted thrill ride, and unless you've read the book---you never see the surprise ending coming. The motives of the true puppetmasters are superbly hidden and the final outcome cleverly written. Hackman gives a flawless performance as Rankin Fitch. Cusack and Weisz are masterful--they keep you guessing till the hook is set. Dustin Hoffman didn't ring true as a good ole southern attorney; perhaps it was his accent. But the fast paced action is so exciting you barely notice the poor fit.
Like many of John Grisham's film adaptations, there are changes from the book to the big screen. The book involves a tobacco lawsuit instead of gun control. The message of the movie is more about legal scheming than gun control. The plausibility of an invasion of privacy on the level portrayed in this film is too scary to even think about. You will never view a jury summons in a humdrum way after this film.
The screenplay was written by Brian Koppelman David Levien, Matthew Chapman and Rick Cleveland. The director Gary Fleder (IMPOSTOR and DON'T SAY A WORD) delivers an action packed, suspenseful thriller. Rated PG-13 for language, violence and thematic elements. Running time: 2:07
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