Runaway Jury


RUNAWAY JURY, John Grisham’s 7th novel, 414 pages of bestseller manna from 1996, was such a lock for film treatment that a then-record $8,000,000 was spent securing the rights for what would become the 2003 screen version. In the 4-man screenplay, the book’s villains—big tobacco—were switched to the greedy gunmen of the firearms industry. The 1999 release of The Insider had taken steam (or smoke) out of the cigarette threat, and the rising tide of mass murders presented a more immediate and visceral target. Well-packaged, expertly cast thriller holds timeliness tragically becoming timeless: after countless massacres—and nothing done to stop them—the experience is heightened by an element of never-healed hurt. *

A few years after a mass shooting in New Orleans, principled attorney ‘Wendell Rohr’ (Dustin Hoffman) takes on a widow’s case against the gun manufacturers whose practices contributed to the crime. The blood-enriched weapons lords enlist a big gun in earnestly unscrupulous jury consultant ‘Rankin Fitch’ (Gene Hackman), whose team of creeps aim to make sure the trajectory ricochets their way, with a bullet. But canny juror ‘Nick Easter’ (John Cusack) proves a loose cannon; he and ‘Marlee’ (Rachel Weisz), his mysterious partner on the outside, have their own exacting agenda.

The expected Grisham momentum, array of distinctive character types and patina of topicality insure engagement and the gift-picked cast go after their tasks with relish.  Top-billed Cusack, 36, gets the largest and key role, his edgy blend of quick wit and basic decency with just enough submerged anger for gravitas sufficient to cover the shades of gray in his man with a mission. Weisz is an equally adept choice as his plot partner. Old pros Hackman and Hoffman get to play their first and only on-screen face-off: they’d started off as acting class pals and room-mates 40 years earlier, a decade before fame and fortune caught up. The packed supporting array is a major bonus, with extra high marks going to Bruce McGill as the no-bull judge and Stanley Anderson, who sites in his casually callous arms merchant with telescopic precision.

The neatly balanced script was done by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman. Directed by Gary Fleder (his best film), greatly aided by ace Robert Elswit on the camera. Grosses were underwhelming considering the cost ($60,000,000), the draw of the cast and the Grisham lure. A $49,444,000 domestic take placed 59th, though another $30,711,000 came in from international bookings.

“…the thing of it is, I don’t give a shit. What’s more… I never have.”

Stanley Anderson, 1939-2018

With—and they’re all good—Jeremy Piven (subdued, more likable than usual), Nick Searcy, Bruce Davison, Cliff Curtis, Luiz Guzman, Leland Orser, Nestor Serrano, Nora Dunn (excellent), Rusty Schwimmer, Jerry Bamman, Joanna Going, Bill Nunn, Marguerite Moreau, Celia Weston, Rhoda Griffis, Jennifer Beals (little used), Henry Darrow, Dylan McDermott, Orlando Jones, Ed Nelson. 127 minutes.

* One slaughter follows another, with craven fix-it answers from cross-wearing politicians that would outrage a serial killer. The movie ends with a schoolyard of children, an image that ought  click a cylinder in the dimmest two-legged reptile’s arsenal of b.s. But they won’t be reached until it’s their kids that are torn apart into unrecognizable heaps; until then rest assured not a damn thing will be done. To call them swine insults the innocence of hogs.


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