a critiQal film review Runaway Jury (2003)

Plot: The biggest trial of the year is about to commence in New Orleans. The Plaintiff, Celeste Wood (Going) has hired local New Orleans lawyer, Roir (Hoffman) to help her sue Vicksburg Guns in the shooting death of her husband (McDermott). Vicksburg Guns has hired the very powerful Rankin Fitch (Hackman) to make sure the jury goes their way. But what neither side counted on was juror #9 Nick Easter (Cusack).

Reviewed
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  • ...thanks in large part to Cusack and Hackman, this is one courtroom drama that will keep viewers glued to their seats.

I first read the novel by John Grisham a couple years ago and thought it was pretty good. When I first heard the movie version Runaway Jury was coming out I wanted to see it, but had a few hesitations.

First off, a movie is never as good as the book, so I knew I was going to be a little disappointed. Which led to my second worry – how much would I be disappointed? While some of John Grisham’s novels have turned into pretty decent movies (A Time to Kill, The Client (1994)), others made you almost wish they had never been given the movie treatment (The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief). With about a fifty percent chance the movie would be “craptastic”, I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this film.

As you may know from reading other reviews here at critiQal, what do I do when I’m iffy about seeing a movie? Wait for the DVD to come along, which is what I did yet again. So, would Runaway Jury The Firm (1993)-ly cement itself on my list of bad films, or would it be my choice when I had Time to Kill?

Runaway Jury definitely had some sort of clout in the movie industry, as familiar names abound, including Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Jeremy Piven, Bruce McGill, Joanna Going, Nora Dunn and even (pay attention 80’s fans) Jennifer Beals. Whether the clout came from a good plot or John Grisham’s name behind the film, I’m not sure. Whatever the case may be, Hackman, Hoffman, Cusack & Co. all perform extremely well in the film.

While Hoffman continues his nearly unbroken string of low key performances (Last stand-out: ), Hackman and Cusak, among others, really step up to the plate.

Hackman, who seems to do a law film once every 4-6 years (Narrow Margin, The Chamber, Under Suspicion), follows this trend, as well as the trend developing throughout his career, as the immoral Fitch. If you look back on Hackman’s career, his popular films show almost a downward trend in his characters.

Want examples? In Crimson Tide, he’s still working within the system but taking his orders a little too far, showcasing his somewhat hidden inner control freak. In Enemy of the State (1998), he’s now become a vigilante outside the law and actually becomes a good guy for his willingness to go outside the boundaries. In Get Shorty (1995), his small-timer-with-big-dreams stumbles his way through, even imitating big timer Chili Palmer at one point – he’s got no morals he’s just in it for himself.

Then you get to Runaway Jury, where his immoral character, now full of wealth and power, will let nothing stand in his way. What’s next Gene, the Devil himself? While this is somewhat an odd trend, Mr. Hackman has managed to pull it off and this film is no exception. He brings a depth to his bad guy that makes the viewer, even though they may not agree with what he’s doing, at least understand why he’s doing it.

And now we get to the true star of our show, Mr. John Cusack. Usually, when a star carves a niche for himself he’s successful, as John Cusack did in his basically good-guy-next-door phase in the ’80’s. But, when that niche dries up the actor finds himself without work. Not true for John though. When that light comedy niche started drying up, John got out and started delving into deeper roles, such as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Identity (2003).

Luckily for John, his acting has been good enough for him to transcend that niche and he’s on his way to becoming a bigger star than he was in the ’80’s. His talent seems to lie in putting that good boy face forward…but only as a facade. The deeper you delve into his movies lately, the more that facade is peeled away. This is an instant draw to the viewer, since the viewer still readily recognizes John from his ’80’s heyday. The truth behind the mask is even more surprising because it is John.

The plot was as well put together as a John Grisham novel is written. That is to say, it had a quick pace, a good story line, and gave enough information for each scene to work but not enough to give the ending away. It really holds the viewers attention through every scene of the film, and one can not point to any dragging moments in the film. Needless to say, this courtroom drama doesn’t stay just in the courtroom, but expands to show the viewer enough information about outside events to keep the realism of the film.

With it’s multitude of talented actors, its gripping storyline and quick pace, Runaway Jury draws viewers in from the moment the film begins. With impressive performances by Gene Hackman and John Cusack (plus the much-hyped first ever scene between Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman), its ability to step outside the courtroom, and the film’s ability to give the viewer just enough information without giving away the ending, Runaway Jury is one courtroom drama that will keep the viewers tuned in until the very end.

Rent this one today, folks – this Jury will run away with your vote too.

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