Runaway Jury (2003)   2/52/52/52/52/5


Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman in Runaway Jury

Gene gets a Dustin' down from John's Jury

"The best John Grisham adaptation since The Firm!" so it states on the cover of "Runaway Jury". Unfortunately it is anything but. "Runaway Jury" rarely follows the Grisham novel which it is adapted from and in doing so creates an enjoyable but hugely flawed movie with plot holes a plenty. It's another case of if you have read the book the movie will be a disappointment but for those who haven't it will most likely be enjoyable.

When a lawyer is murdered in a gun massacre, his widow decides to take the gun manufacturer to court hiring Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman - Wag the Dog), an idealistic and honest lawyer, to oversee the case for the prosecution. Pulling the strings for the defence team is renowned jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman - Behind Enemy Lines) who will achieve the desired result no matter what the cost. With such a high profile case and with what could be a very expensive outcome, the importance of the perfect jury is crucial to both teams of lawyers. As the trial commences, the two teams are in for a huge shock, when they discover that juror, Nicholas Easter (John Cusack - Serendipity) is able to manipulate the jury and will do so for the right price. But as the trial comes towards an end, his motives along with his partners are not what they seem.

John Cusack and Rachel Weisz in Runaway Jury

"Runaway Jury" centres around a court case against one of America's biggest gun manufacturers where a juror has the power to control the jury, with his motivation being a huge payoff. In the Grisham novel, the court case is against a big tobacco giant, why they decided to change this is beyond me and straight away annoyed me as it gave the movie a completely different feel to the book.

The movie is split into 2 pretty distinct halves, with the first half covering the jury selection process and this is quite interesting as it shows the science behind how they pick juries as well as how someone can get themselves picked. The second half is watching Nicholas Easter manipulate the jury from the inside, this is where "Runaway Jury" goes down hill as the way he does this is feels very unreal and you are left to take a lot for granted. I would have thought that some of the things which happened would have caused the whole jury to be thrown out.

The casting and the characters in "Runaway Jury" are also a bit disappointing as they are very much hit or miss. On the hit side is Gene Hackman as Rankin Fitch. In my opinion his performance is the best in the movie and he pretty much carries it on his shoulders. The only person to get anywhere near to his performance is Rachel Weisz as Marlee, Nicholas Easter's co-conspirator. Up until now I had not been a huge fan of Weisz, but this movie has changed my mind.

On the miss side is John Cusack as Nicholas Easter, the man on the inside with the cunning to change a juries mind. I honestly believe that Cusack did a good job, but the character he was portraying is too weak and does not come across as someone with the guile to manipulate a jury. Right at the bottom of the casting is Dustin Hoffman as the prosecuting lawyer, Wendell Rohr. Rohr's character is not really explored in the movie and is a complete waste of the talented Mr. Hoffman. The rest of the cast put in over acted performances which at times looked as if they came straight out of an amateur theatre production.

"Runaway Jury" is directed by Gary Fleder who had previously directed "Kiss the Girls". I don't often say this, but I feel he could have done a heck of a lot better and made this a much better thriller. For some reason he has got some of the cast over acting, which is quite distracting. But not only that, between him and the four screen writers, yes four screen writers, he has adapted what is a very good novel with a solid story into a very weak movie which leaves you feeling cheated.

Another disappointment was the fact that "Runaway Jury" has been set in New Orleans and not as in the book, Biloxi, Mississippi. Why they decided to relocate the story is again a mystery as it does not play a huge part in the movie. Fleder's only saving graces in "Runaway Jury", is that he has kept the pace of the movie at a decent level, and that he manages to keep you hanging on for the next plot twist.

What this all boils down is that personally I didn't find "Runaway Jury" to be that good, but I'm sure my viewpoint is clouded by the fact that I had expected it to be like the Grisham novel. If I try and look at the movie as not an adaptation of the book, then it is a reasonable thriller if not a little flawed. Sadly it is spoilt by a weak plot and some terrible over acting. All I can say is that if you have read the novel then give this adaptation a miss or be prepared to be disappointed.

Tags: John Grisham


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