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Zettel Film Reviews » Runaway Jury – 12 psycholically profiled, manipulated, fiddled, not so angry men

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Runaway Jury – 12 psycholically profiled, manipulated, fiddled, not so angry men

legal is as legal does

legal is as legal does

Runaway Jury – Gary Fielder

As a novelist John Grisham flatters to deceive: he is a great page-turning writer, but a merely adequate ‘plotter’, whose characters are often buried by the burden of idealism Grisham requires them to carry. The greatest of these qualities, the simple, accessible writing style, is the first thing that goes in a movie adaptation. Which perhaps explains the ordinariness of most films of his books. Seldom bad, but the heart-rate stays steady.

His theme is always the same: idealism versus cynicism about the law, amongst the lawyers; in the context of the fight against corporate corruption in American society. The corporate villain in this case is the Gun lobby. The idealism here probably plays better in the UK than the US where the 24/7 antennae of the NRA has led to a few snipes.

Grisham adaptations must have good actors to put a bit of meat on his often flat characters. Here he is served well: Gene Hackman doesn’t quite match his role in The Firm perhaps the best Grisham movie, but as ever he’s very good. Cusack poker-faces his way through well enough to hide the plot twists, and even the often bland Rachel Weisz manages a bit of semi-ballsy feistiness. Hoffman, as too often of late, seems to have embraced the role of Character Actor in his head and become disappointingly mannered. He needs a challenge. This potboiler isn’t it.

That said, Runaway Jury is good fun. Director Fielder keeps the pace and uncertainties bubbling nicely. He draws us in to cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys and surprises us pleasantly if mildly, with which is which. It’s a ‘black hat’, ‘white hat’, kind of movie where you know what hat the winner will be wearing. And why not? If you like thrillers with a legal background where the good guys struggle to come out on top, you’ll love it.

The legal bad guy here is Hackman’s Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant of ferocious focus and ruthless amorality. Never mind the truth – feel the fee. Idealistic Wendell Rohr, (Hoffman), wants a precedent-setting judgement that makes gun manufacturers accountable for the social context in which they peddle state-of-the-art means to kill to any Tom, Dick or nutcase with the money to stump up. A massacre by one such loyal customer triggers (!) the plot. Rohr defends the widow of a stockbroker, one of a dozen employees mowed down by an ex-employee who begged to differ about his value to the firm. As this is ‘black hat’ ‘white-hat’ stuff, no question is raised about why in American society ‘downsized’ US employees massacre former workmates rather than, as in the UK, spend more time with the pigeons and build a nice garden room extension.

Runaway Jury is good entertainment, a bit livelier and just a smidge more unpredicatable than previous Grisham adaptations. Good performances add enough credibility to make us feel warm-hearted and comforted that idealism isn’t an entirely dumb-ass point of view. But there’s nothing here to deter NRA members from selling semi-automatic, fingerprint-resistant WMD’s for ‘leisure purposes’.

(January 2004)

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