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Bams' review of
Runaway Jury


Runaway Jury (2003)
Rated PG-13; running time 125 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Crime/Drama
Seen at: Eastwood Neighborhood Cinema Group (Lansing, Michigan)
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien (based on the novel by John Grisham)
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Cast: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Nick Searcy

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2003

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

Do I think that Big Business regularly hires manipulators like Rankin Fitch to sway juries and influence lawsuits brought against them? You betcha. Do I buy that there are "professional" jurors out there like Nick Easter? Ok, I can mostly buy that. Do I ken that there are honest-to-a-fault, passionate only about the cause, naive as hell, lawyers as old as Wendell Rohr? Well, that's pushing it. And do I believe, given the vast amounts of wealth and power at stake in the case that Fitch was puppet-mastering, that anything remotely resembling the last act in this movie, could ever happen? Yeah. Right.

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
The widow of a New Orleans man gunned down in his office by a rampaging madman, sues the gun manufacturer on the grounds that the gunman was able to get said guns because the manufacturer knowingly sold their firearms to shady dealers. Celeste Wood (Joanna Going) hires kindly, committed Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to take on her cause. Rohr, in turn, reluctantly hires Lawrence Green (Jeremy Piven), a jury consultant, to help him get a feel for the twelve men and women who would decide on this landmark case.

Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), is hired by the gun lobby to protect their considerable interests in this case and potential others that might arise. Fitch is the Jury Consultant of all jury consultants, with a crack team of high-tech staffers on hand to get the lowdown on all of the potential jurors in the case, and feed that info to defense lawyer Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison). Fitch's team hopes to manipulate the jury, resulting in a favorable verdict for his client. One juror they hadn't counted on, however, is Nick Easter (John Cusack), the seeming class clown of the bunch, who might have more at stake in this case than appears at first glance. To make matters worse, a Mysterious Woman (Rachel Weisz) starts doing some jury tampering of her own...

THE UPSHOT (WARNING: **additional spoilers contained below**)
Runaway Jury rises on the strength of its cast, but ultimately fails as a convincing thriller, mostly because its simplistic speechifying is not a good substitute for naturally flowing dialogue. Don't get me wrong: Jury is a fun theme park ride, but you never forget that the vehicle you're in is rigged to stay on the tracks. Like those rigged cars, there is a set of well-defined parameters that the characters stay within, archetypes that allow the audience to wade through this cast of thousands, and know Who The Players Are, without too much muss and fuss.

The Plaintiff Lawyer archetype, Wendall Rohr, is Upstanding, UberLeftist, Naive, and sweetly southern (as such, Hoffman reminded me of his Tootsie character at times). The Defense Lawyer archetype, Durwood Cable, is a Mindless Marionette, existing solely to keep Fitch from having to get his hands dirty. The Evil Industry archetypes are Money-grubbing, Cold, Unfeeling Cads who hide behind the 2nd Amendment to enable the slaughter of little Junior's dad, think of the children! The various jury members? Gullible Pawn archetypes, blissfully unaware that their participation in the American justice system counts just about as much as their voting in political elections does. (This archetype makes the most sense, of course, since jury gullibility is one of the issues at the heart of Jury; the trial itself is almost an afterthought). And so on and so forth, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

In and of itself, reliance on archetypes to tell a story isn't all that bad; but in Jury, it strains this movie's credibility to the breaking point. And beyond the rigged, rigid characters, lies a greater problem: even the most cynical person, willing to believe that Big Business is capable of just about anything, would have a hard time believing half of what goes on in this movie. This feeling only worsens, the longer you watch Jury. Your jury's sequestered and you need to Meet An Important Character? Hey, just wait till the guards have their backs turned, and simply sneak away! A lawyer, suing for millions of dollars, but Really Truly only interested in Seeing Justice Done? Ha, that's a good one! And I won't even go into Geek phase, obsessing over how Fitch's tech group could so easily "break the code" of a Mac-formatted product...on their PCs.

But if you can get over these issues, and plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through, Runaway Jury is an entertaining enough movie. You forgive Rohr's unrealistic naivety and glowing halo, because Hoffman makes the character interesting to watch. Similarly, you can just about roll with the movie's ending, because John Cusack imbibes his character with charm enough to allow you to look past the plot's implausibility. The only two major characters (and their actors) that you don't need excuses to buy what they're selling, are Rachel Weisz as Marlee, and especially the always-good Gene Hackman as Fitch. Marlee still stretches credibility somewhat as a the Mastermind behind the double-cross manipulation (especially given the payoff we're asked to believe), but Hackman wrecks thangs, in his customary fashion. Hackman has a way of making the most implausible tale, seem plausible - a characteristic which he had to pour on thick to make Runaway Jury worth at least a cursory look.

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]
One thing Runaway Jury got right was casting actors such as Bill Nunn, Cliff Curtis, Luis Guzman, and Rusty Schwimmer, to portray a cultural cross-section of jurors - without a single reference to any particular juror's race as a factor in any plot points. What I dearly loved about that was that for once, a movie about the justice system in America, seemed color-indifferent. Would that this was the rule, not the exception.

Runaway Jury is like a wand of cotton candy: it's great when you first start munching on it, but before long, you notice you've swallowed little more than sweet, fluffy air.

RUNAWAY JURY:   fyellow

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2003
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed through 10/17/03):

Bams' reviews:
Runaway Jury | Mystic River

The Diva's reviews:
Runaway Jury | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Cass' reviews:
Veronica Guerin

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