Director(s): Gary Fleder
Writer(s): Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Oct 17, 2003 - Wide
Gary Fleder directs John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz in a tautly-paced legal thriller based on John Grisham’s novel The Runaway Jury.
A widow is suing a gun manufacturer because the weapon that was used in an office massacre that killed her husband was too easily obtained. She hires attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) who, despite evidence to the contrary, still believes that justice can prevail in a world where big money often gets Lady Justice to tilt in their favour.
The opposing attorney, Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison), hires Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) as a jury consultant. Fitch believes that “trials are too important to be left up to juries” and from a darkened command centre full of computer monitors learns dark secrets about the potential jurors so that he can stack the jury in his favour.
One one side, there’s a man who believes justice will be fair and on the other, a man who believes justice can be bought. What they’re not expecting is a man who believes that it can be sold to the highest bidder. Enter Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), who cunningly fumbles his way onto the jury despite Rankin’s initial misgivings. He and his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) have devised a plan to sell the verdict to the highest bidder. Their opening price: $10 million. Will Wendell Rohr succumb to the temptation in order to get the verdict he believes his client deserves? Will Rankin Fitch stop at nothing to keep the verdict that he thinks he’s already bought?
The pace of the picture wallops us into suspending our disbelief and stops us from asking some of the bigger plot questions until after the end credits have rolled and we’re trying to locate our cars in the parking lot. For example, I realize Rankin Fitch is a high-priced consultant but the speed with which he can retrieve confidential info rivals that of the NSA and CIA. Not quite sure he can do it on his budget, but I’ll let it go. Also, having been called for jury duty myself, how could Nick Easter know that he’d be in the exact pool of potential jurors for the right case needed for his plans? Or were all the cases that day multimillion dollar suits against conglomerates?
Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman continue their trend of presenting master classes on acting and Hackman is perfectly slimy as the snake coiled around the justice system. It’s also a shame that Hackman and Hoffman, who used to be roommates when they were struggling actors, only have one scene together. But when they do get together, it’s like the diner meeting between De Niro and Pacino in Heat: you’re just watching so much skill on display. With a pair like Hoffman and Hackman on set, it’d be easy to get lost in the shuffle, but John Cusack just plays his role with such ease. There’s also depth in the supporting roles with actors like Davison, Jeremy Piven and Luis Guzman. I’d even go so far as to saw New Orleans is a character as well. This would be a much more sterile story if it had been set in New York or Chicago.
I sort of felt that the movie tied its storyline up in a quick bow a little too easily, but I think this is one of those cinematic trips where the ride is more fun than the destination.