Runaway Jury Review
John Grisham, while not as prolific as Stephen King, is still managing to bang out a legal thriller on a roughly annual basis. Come Christmas and you will find the Grisham annual along with the Dandy and the Beano. Like those two venerable old comic books you just about know what you're going to get. There is a comforting familiarity with his books. A sense of returning home, where everybody knows your name. Hollywood, and in particular Gene Hackman, have a distinct affinity for his work. Indeed this is the third time Hackman has taken a role in a Grisham book to film adaptation, having starred in 1993's The Firm alongside Tom Cruise, and in 1996's The Chamber with Chris O'Donnell. Here he plays Rankin Fitch, a slick, ruthless legal advisor who specialises in the jury selection process. Working big cases, Fitch ensures that his employer gets the verdict they want. As he says “ Verdicts are too important to be left up to the jury”. His latest case involves powerful gun manufacturer Henry Jankle (Stanley Anderson) who is being sued for the death of Henry Wood who was shot with one of Mr Jankle's products in a dramatic and emotional opening sequence. Prosecuting the case is Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). However all is not as it seems as a mystery woman (Rachel Weisz) and juror number 9 (John Cusack) have an agenda of there own. They have a verdict to sell to the highest bidder, and are willing to put their lives at risk for a $15M payday.
Competently, if rather unimaginatively, directed by Gary Fleder (Don't Say A Word) this is one of Grisham's better page turners. A big hitting cast has been assembled but only Hackman extends himself bringing venom and genuine menace to his role. Hoffman, Cusack and Weisz are again all competent without being outstanding. This suggests that the problem lies with the source material rather than the actors and director. As I mentioned earlier Grisham thrillers are somewhat predictable and linear in structure with little to tax the mind, and Runaway Jury follows just such a pattern with the climatic plot twist and expose leaving the viewer slightly unsatisfied. That said it is by no means bad, and it is certainly diverting for the two hour run time. Like baked beans on toast, it's a good meal but a bit bland.