Runaway Jury (2003) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language and thematic elements
Running Time: 127 min.

Cast: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Nick Searcy, Cliff Curtis, Joanna Going, Nestor Serrano
Director: Gary Fleder
Screenplay: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman (based on the novel by John Grisham)
Review published October 18, 2003

I almost feel guilty for finding the latest John Grisham adaptation, Runaway Jury, as entertaining as I do, given that I muttered the phrase "B.S." with almost every twist and turn along the way.  If ever a movie could be accused of grandstanding in order to push forward a case, this is it.  From the dubious understanding of the judicial process to the ridiculous sets of circumstances which would have to occur for such an impossible plot to work, Runaway Jury demands an inordinate amount of suspension of disbelief.  What is most amazing is, it gets it.  This is a thriller so slick and gorgeously crafted, you are willing to put aside all of this implausibility and watch some of the finest actors in the business, along with a director on top of his game, deliver with unwavering efficiency.

Fans of Grisham's novel may scoff, as the film makes some major changes to his novel.  The setting changes from Biloxi to New Orleans, the case goes from tobacco companies to guns, and many other major tweaks are implemented, some of which are probably due to several major lawsuits against tobacco companies already succeeding in recent years, making it seem rather unremarkable today. 

John Cusack (Identity, Serendipity) stars as Nick Easter, who reluctantly goes in for jury duty for a major trial involving the lawsuit of the gun company which manufactured the weapon used in an office shooting which killed almost a dozen people, including the plaintiff's husband.  Big name lawyers take up both sides, and the defense has called in the best in the business when it comes to stacking a jury, Rankin Fitch (Hackman, Behind Enemy Lines).  However, as unassuming as Easter appears at first glance, there's more to him that meets the eye, as he connives his way into the jury, then proceeds on winning them over.  The plan is to deliver the jury to the highest bidder, and with stakes this high, you can best believe both sides want to win at any cost.

A solid cast performing on all cylinders is the best asset Runaway Jury has going for it, and with such giants of screen presence as Hoffman, Hackman and Cusack, perhaps most impressive is that Rachel Weisz (Confidence, The Shape of Things) is able to stand her own ground playing against some formidable legends.  Even with such a solid cast, nothing could have come of this if not for the swift, economical direction by Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word, Kiss the Girls), who shows talent he hasn't seen before in making almost every moment of this supercharged thriller exciting.  It's one well-oiled machine.

Where the film falls short of greatness lies solely in its story, which just doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to authenticity.  The leaps of logic in the plot and farfetched ideas on the judicial system stretch the believability to its maximum proportion, and even if the underlying message of the movie is the culpability of big businesses in tainting juries for their own profits, the contortions made to hold together the story make for some rough patches.  Still, Fleder covers over all of the plot holes by keeping the action moving briskly along, and the interaction of the performers leads to several moments of dynamite confrontations.

Runaway Jury should be seen as pure entertainment if you want to fully enjoy it, as any argument as to its legitimacy just won't hold water.  Watch it for Hoffman (Moonlight Mile, Sphere), Hackman, Cusack and Weisz.  Watch it for the twisty, fast-moving suspense.  Watch it for a smart, thrilling courtroom drama.  Just don't watch it and expect anything profound or brilliant.  Like the novels by Grisham himself, this is strictly for a good, arresting diversion, meant to be consumed quickly and with great interest.  You're not supposed to think too hard about it while watching, and you certainly won't think about it at all long after it's over.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo