Here is another John Grisham legal thriller book turned movie that just shows how much the guy needs a new job. Many of the movies based on his books are starting to play out the same way. Runaway Jury is a story, which takes place in New Orelans, about a conspiracy to buy the jury of a high profile wrongful death suit against a gun manufacturer. The book's original plot involved a tobacco company in Atlanta, and a few twists and turns aside; everything else is essentially the same. As the trailers have already revealed, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz attempt to extort millions of dollars from both sides in the case. The targets: prosecutor Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) and jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), whose tactics of picking and 'influencing' jurors are unethical if not downright illegal.
The story opens with a birthday party for the son of Jacob Woods (Dylan McDermott, who's not playing a lawyer in a movie for a change). When we move to see Jacob at his office, the sound of gunfire rings out, and in trying to protect a coworker, Jacob is killed (the movie should get an "A" rating just for that). Cut to several months later and his widow is suing a gun manufacturer for wrongful death alleging that their product was unsafe (not that the disgruntled employee who committed the crime had NOTHING to do with it.) The gun lobby hires Fitch, the best jury consultant in the business and pays him millions to 'secure' a favorable jury. Fitch sets up shop where he installs hidden cameras in the courtroom to observe potential jurors during questioning. From his remote command center armed with plasma TV's and probably a big Lexis-Nexis account, he advises defense council Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison) who and who not to pick. Once the jury is complete, his crew does some data mining on all the jurors to find out their weakness and dirty little secrets -- anything he can use to get the juror to go his way.
However, one juror, Nicholas Easter (Cusack) has his own agenda and together with his girlfriend and business partner Marlee (Weisz), they work to sell the jury and make off with a big paycheck. By day Nicholas works the jurors one-by-one to see who is most likely to be manipulated, and by night Marlee negotiates with Rohr and Fitch for the price of the jury -- and the tension and danger heats up.
Perhaps these Southern legal mystery thrillers are just past their prime and Grisham has worn out his welcome with moviegoers. I don't know, but for some reason I just didn't get pulled into Runaway Jury even though it was set in my hometown. Perhaps it's the issue at the movie's plot that pissed me off, suing the gun manufacturers for an unsafe product. Come on. There was murder long before guns and people kill without firearms all the time, and we all know guns were meant to kill. The fact that some loon went buck wild and took out his boss, is NOT the fault of the manufacturer. I hate to sound cliché while I'm up here on my soapbox, but guns don't kill people, people kill people…and yes they kill with guns, but they also kill with knives, cars, and myriad other implements . So, next time someone is bludgeoned to death, will we sue Louisville Slugger? Or how about God since people kill with their hands too? Gun control is using both hands and hitting your target the first time!! OK, let me get down now. (BTW, if you disagree, please don't e-mail me with your self-righteous opinions, gun death statistics, or diatribes telling me how wrong/sick/uncaring I am, because I really don't give a fuck what you think.)
Secondly, the movie was full of banal New Orleaniana (Canal St/Bourbon St/St. Charles Ave street car/Café du Monde) and of my particular loathing, a voodoo shop run by a 'Cajun' who only speaks French in downtown New Orleans, which is really absurd. Let me cash your reality check: The French-only speaking Cajuns are literally a dying breed, and very few live in the city, and they couldn't survive in business if they didn't speak a work of English and needed happenstance customers to translate. There ain't much French about the French Quarter these days. However, the most egregious problem, at least to me, was the distant acting and execution by one of the principal characters. Much to my dismay, Dustin Hoffman's forced corny accent and hackney portrayal of prosecutor Wendell Rohr was disheartening. He just didn't seem to mesh with this role, I found it stilted at best, not that he wasn't giving off a good effort, but he couldn't seem to pull it off. Sorry Dusty.
The much touted "surprise and shocking ending" advertised a week after the film's opening was neither. If you've seen any of Grisham's movies before, you would know by now to expect unexpected endings, if not be able to predict them altogether. While I didn't know WHAT the ending would be, it did not blow me away by any measure but I did like the way the final twist remained hidden until the crucial moment. It won't knock your socks off, but it will give you vision into the personal agenda provoking Marlee and Nick to sell a verdict, albeit nobly misguided.
On a positive note, I have to comment on the fabulous performance by Gene Hackman. What Hoffman lacked in his character, Hackman made up for it and then some with his own. Here's an actor who became his character and left no doubt that he was earning whatever grossly inflated salary Hollywood pays these days. You despised him from the first line he spoke and grew to despise him even more so as the movie advanced. If the ending does nothing else, it will make you feel good when Fitch gets his reward, as he is such a bastard. My favorite and best scene in the movie is the exchange between he and Hoffman regarding why each of them is involved with the suit, and the law. The monologue delivered by Hackman's character, of which I whole heartedly agree, indicated that Fitch really believes in what he does and why he does it, even moreso than sanctimonious Rohr. After seeing this scene, you'll realize this is why Gene Hackman is still a highly respected, highly employed, and highly paid actor.
Rachael Weisz held her own formidably as Marlee and it is nice to see her in a stronger leading role. John Cusack was basically the same as he usually is, and as much as I personally like Cusack and hope to stalk him one day, I really don't feel he's great actor. Good, but not great. He's perfect for an anybody role, but perhaps his devilish good looks and coolness are why he's still around.
There was a lot of star power in Runaway Jury, in fact almost to the point of overkill. In addition to veteran actors Hackman and Hoffman, the experienced Cusack, and the up and coming Weisz; the minor roles --- the judge, opposing council, gun manufacturers and even the jury consisted of many recognizable TV and movie character actors. It rivals Scary Movie 3 as this year's movie with the most number of familiar faces in minor supporting roles.
Runaway Jury is a fairly good film and I don't advise against viewing. Dustin Hoffman was a let down, and I personally didn't like the ending or the message that it sends, but that aside, I found it entertaining and worth the matinee price that I paid for it. Oh yeah, and if you haven't guessed it, I took this review a bit personal.
Notes: The locals pronounces it N'awlins and not New OrlEEEEns and don't sound like Dustin Hoffman !!
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Runaway Jury gets hung on it's convictions.
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