2003-11-07 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Runaway Jury’ – Run Away

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Runaway Jury’ – Run Away

MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘Runaway Jury’ – Run Away

Is it possible that the U.S. justice system is as corrupt as author John Grisham says? If so, it makes for some intensely insightful drama. Otherwise, it’s Judge Judy in the Twilight Zone.

Recently released as a motion picture, his "Runaway Jury" could have been called, "12 Angry Manipulated Men and Women." While in the book the big corporate bad guy  is the tobacco industry, the movie is taking aim at the gun manufacturing business.  However, the real villain is defense consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) who, in fact, is the Mephistopheles of jury tamperers. Hired by the gun mogul, Fitch and his henchmen actually set up a "Dr. Strangelove/ Sting"-type war room somewhere in the bowels of the courthouse, where they monitor and maneuver every aspect of the trial. They also conduct thorough surveillance on all potential jurors, probing weaknesses as avenues for extortion. Still, corruption appears on another level in the form of Nick Easter (John Cusack), who worms his way on the jury. Easter and his partner, Markee (Rachel Weisz), have their own hidden agenda, which includes competitive bribes on Fitch and the plaintiff’s attorney, Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). The plaintiff is the wife of a fatal victim of unexpected gun violence at a New Orleans brokerage firm. Using Clarence Darrow crusader Rohr, she hopes to turn the tables on a huge weapons conglomerate in a revenge lawsuit. However, the bidding/ bribe battle grows so extreme involving the jurors, consultants and lawyers that it seems impossible for any semblance of justice to seep into the courtroom.

But, this is Hollywood and after climbing a mountain of machinations provided by the four screenwriters and Grisham, the good guys (whoever they are) gain the upper hand. Somewhere amidst the intrigue, the long-awaited acting confrontation between Hackman and Hoffman occurs (in a men’s room, no less) But, it’s hardly worth the wait or the price of admission. With his squeaky Southern accent, Hoffman sounds a little too close to Tootsie to be taken seriously. Hackman merely does his gruff hot-tempered routine (I liked him better as Lex Luthor, where he retained his sense of humor). As for Crusack, he’s the most interesting character…in that, we’re never sure where he is coming from. And, how the hell he got on the jury is anyone’s guess.

Once you accept Grisham’s premise of judicial corruption, the film becomes a question of which manipulator has the most muscle. The whole concept is so incredible, especially because in real life, it’s difficult to sneak a paper clip through courthouse metal detectors, much less a secret surveillance camera…which is done by Fitch’s yes-man defense attorney Cable (Bruce Davison).

For dead-hard Grisham fans, "Runaway Jury" should offer some satisfaction ten years after "The Firm." Anyone fed up the author should stay (or run) away.

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