Immediately on looking at the cover of this disc you notice the impressive cast list; Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz and some very notable supporting cast roles too. Then you see the name Gary Fleder on the director's credit, and whilst his previous movies may have lacked a certain calibre of lead actor his filmography certainly features some big name films - Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead and Kiss the Girls being most notable. Being based on a John Grisham novel we expect big box office success, varying southern accents and edge-of-your seat suspense in the build up to a grand finale of plot twists and revealers. Runaway Jury has all these ingredients but doesn't seem to have mixed them all together properly for the perfect pie that it should be.
Nick Easter (John Cusack) receives that letter that all Americans dread; Notice of Jury Duty. In classic Grisham style a lone woman is taking on a major gun manufacturer and attempting to implicate them in the murder of her husband through their lack of control over distribution of automatic guns. Her lawyer is the talented Wendell Rohr (Hoffman) and lead spokesman for the manufacturers legal team is the smarmy talking Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison). However it's what goes on behind the scenes that is all important, since the defence team have enlisted the aid of Rankin Fitch (Hackman) to consult on jury selection. What neither side are immediately aware of is that the jury can be bought, and not only that - it is one of the jurors who is pulling all the strings! Fitch (Hackman) had been readying himself to pay-off the jury but is slowly losing control over the individuals he has in his grasp as the insider begins to work on them. Rohr (Hoffman) is then faced with an ethical decision: pay the jury himself to guarantee the victory, or leave them to their own vices and hope the vote swings the prosecutions way
Hackman gives another Enemy of the State style performance in his big war room, littered with plasma screens scrolling juror profiles, linguistics experts, personality experts, and access to every database on the planet! Many scenes involve him at his most comfortable; being master of his territory, controlling the defence team with wireless earpieces and the like. This is classic Hackman, but is so over the top within the confines of a courtroom thriller that while technically possible (and more than likely in high profile cases), you still feel Runaway Jury enters the realms of the far-fetched. It may have been believable had it been explored intelligently, but this is the tale of a script that never fully does the storyline justice. Individual performances are good based on the lines the actors have, but the script itself doesn't promote real character development and so limits what the cast can do with it. Nor is the storyline developed that bit further to really explore the intricacies of tampering with a jury on such a publicised case. There are scenes where Fitch's team begin to blackmail, deceive or pay-off members of the jury, but the audience never properly understands the justification for using each method, and within 20 minutes all is forgotten again as if it never happened.
Runaway Jury makes for a good read, but it seems all the best bits that made the book such an intense thriller have been lost in the transfer to movie. Where the book explores character motivations, the individual juror's views on gun crime and the firearm industry's relentless desire to win the case, the movie takes all these things for granted and simply tells a simple story. I'm not saying it's not good, but what a letdown considering what it could be.
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