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Runaway Jury (2003)

Trials are too important to be decided by juries.

Directed by:

Gary Fleder

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 127 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A

'Runaway Jury' is, like 'The Firm', 'The Pelican Brief', 'The Client' and 'The Rainmaker', a dependable, workmanlike film adaptation of a John Grisham novel, perfectly suited to make intercontinental flights seem shorter, if only you could make out the dialogue over the roar of the plane's engines. With a plot that combines courtroom drama with corporate misdeeds and confidence trickery, it rattles along like a runaway train – and though you can see from early on where it is heading, it still makes for a thrilling enough ride.

After a broker is gunned down by a failed day trader, his widow hires attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to sue the gun company that provided the murder weapon. A consortium of firearms corporations, terrified that a successful suit could lead to the destruction of their business, hire jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) to guarantee them a favourable jury by deploying his arsenal of dirty tricks. What Fitch has not predicted, however, is that juror Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), together with his partner Marlee (Rachel Weisz), is manipulating the jury from the inside and offering a guaranteed win to the highest bidder. As the case goes on and the stakes get higher, Fitch races to find a weak point in Easter's past so that he can regain control of his runaway jury.

There is an electric moment in Michael Mann's 'Heat' when Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are finally brought face-to-face on the screen for the first time in their long, gilded careers. 'Runaway Jury' has a similar moment, with Hollywood giants Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman sizing one another up – in a toilet, no less – to see who has the bigger presence. They strut, they preen, they flash a bit of vulnerability, and thrash out between them a compelling dialectic on one of the film's main questions – whether the law is a lofty bastion of public rights and justice, or an unprincipled whore who can cynically be used and screwed with for the right price. The film's screenplay is really no more than efficient, but is greatly elevated by having such high-calibre actors utter its lines, as though to prove that, in cinema as much as in a courtroom, success depends less on the merits of the case than on the quality of the advocates hired to present it.

Besides exposing the pros and cons of jury-based trials, 'Runaway Jury' sets its sights on the relationship between firearms manufacturers and gun crime – but instead of setting forth the evidence from either side and allowing viewers to reach their own verdict on such complex issues, the film presents a highly prejudicial case, leading its audience to a conclusion that is disappointingly righteous. In the heated atmosphere of the United States, it is a brave thing to launch so direct an attack on the powerful gun lobby – even if perhaps a little less brave since Michael Moore's

It's Got: Stellar cast bringing the otherwise inert script to life, a suitably runaway pace, and a horrifying insights into how easily a jury can be manipulated, pressured and blackmailed.

It Needs: Something less simplistic than its good-triumphs-over-evil-and-justice-is-served ending.

Alternatives:

Bowling for Columbine, The Client, Twelve Angry Men

Summary

With a perfect cast and multi-layered plot, it rattles along like a runaway train – a thrilling enough ride, even if it must come crashing at the end.