say your piece
OCTOBER 16, 2003
Run Away! Run Away!
By Jeremy Mathews

“Runaway Jury”
20th Century Fox
Directed by Gary Fleder
Screenplay by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Rick Cleveland, based on the novel by John Grisham
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Gary Fleder and Christopher Mankiewicz
Starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill and Jeremy Piven
Rated PG-13

(out of 4)

“Runaway Jury” is the type of political film that loses much of its impact because of story contrivances and improbabilities. All of the characters are not quite as fast or resourceful as they need to be, and without believing in them, we can’t believe in a cause, a scandal or a clever strategic move.

The cast and premise suggest potential for a much better film about jury manipulation in the U.S. justice system. So it’s disappointing when the film loses its way before the second half.
Gene Hackman plays Rankin Fitch, a jury “consultant” who does in-depth investigating, spying and blackmail to make sure that the jury goes for his clients. His current suit is one against a gun company for knowingly setting up a system that allows guns to be sold to criminals on the black market. He sets up a super high-tech surveillance lab in an old warehouse in the French Quarter. He uses the lab to help the gun company get away with dirty deeds.

Or something.

We never hear from the gun company insider who plans to testify (presumably we don’t see him since they couldn’t get Russell Crowe to play the part), so all we really have to go on is that witnesses disappear and that the gun people try to manipulate the jury and advertise such qualities as being fingerprint-proof. John Grisham’s original novel used the cigarette companies, but the filmmakers changed it to a more controversial topic, presumably to avoid comparisons to films like “The Insider.” This film has no danger of being put in the same category.

Dustin Hoffman plays Wendall Rohr, the prosecuting attorney who prides himself on standing up to the corporations. He currently represents the widow of a businessman who was one of many victims in an office shooting. A young jury consultant (Jeremy Piven) flies in on his “own penny” because he believes in the case and wants to counter Fitch’s techniques. Rohr is less cynical and believes in the system.

But neither side is prepared for Nick Easter, played by John Cusack. Pissing off the judge by telling him he needs to leave to make it to a video game challenge, he’s actually a con man who’s manipulating the jury while his girlfriend (Rachel Weisz) notifies both attorneys and offers the verdict to the highest bidder.

The strategies of the two sides could have been much more interesting than they are. Much time is wasted with apparent setups that don’t pay off in the end. While the characters have to be intelligent to do their deeds, they usually do inexplicably stupid things. If people break into your house looking for something, but don’t find it, maybe you should move that thing so that if the same people break in again, they don’t come across it. It’s hard to believe that the brilliant jury manipulators are also completely stupid.

It’s even more disappointing when the skilled actors create characters who seem smart.
In their first motion picture collaboration, Hackman and Hoffman have only one scene acting against each other. It’s an intense scene that might not have too much content, but swarms with emotions.

Hoffman is the only one whose character is interesting throughout the film because he doesn’t get involved in the ridiculous elements that undermine an important issue.

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