2003, PG-13, 127 min. Directed by Gary Fleder. Starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Nick Searcy.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 24, 2003
Runaway Jury is a notch above the mediocre movies that are usually made from mediocre John Grisham bestsellers. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s an endorsement for this surprisingly entertaining film about high tech jury tampering set against the backdrop of a controversial civil trial, in which the plaintiff seeks to hold a gun manufacturer accountable for her husband’s homicide. Of course, as in any film based on one of Grisham’s legal potboilers, there’s a healthy mix of love and contempt for the American jurisprudence system in Runaway Jury, personified here by the plaintiff’s true-believer attorney (Hoffman) and the defense team’s cynical jury consultant (Hackman). As is usually the case, the bad guy is much more interesting than the good guy. Hoffman’s muted performance blends into the mahogany woodwork of the New Orleans courtroom in which much of the film occurs – it’s as if he’s afraid to ratchet up the flamboyance and the Southern accent, lest he start channeling Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie. On the other hand, Hackman’s bravado and bluster as the swaggering Rankin Fitch give the film its life. When Fitch senses that his tactics to manipulate the jury’s verdict are beginning to be undermined by a renegade juror with a mysterious agenda (Cusack), he starts to sweat in a way that gives his monster a hint of humanity. Hackman’s performance here proves, once again, that even in the most dimensionless of roles, he’s still the prince of actors. Indeed, the scene in which Hoffman and Hackman square off in the men’s room isn’t as momentous as you might hope, primarily because it’s a lopsided match. (Trivia note: These two actors were roommates in their prestardom days back in the mid-1960s, and Runaway Jury marks the first time they’ve appeared together onscreen.) Most of the stuff in Runaway Jury seems pretty far-fetched – are we really to believe that prospective jurors are routinely placed under camera surveillance to ascertain their suitability or that defense teams dig up dirt on chosen jurors as a matter of course to influence the verdict? – but, then again, stranger things have happened under the blind eye of justice. If the kinds of things portrayed in Runaway Jury really do happen, then one thing’s for sure: Lady Justice needs some serious corrective eye surgery.