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Runaway Jury (2003)

PG-13 · 127 minutes

Directed by Gary Fleder
Written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman

 · John Cusack
 · Gene Hackman
 · Dustin Hoffman
 · Rachel Weisz

Review by Thom Stricklin

Has it ever been a problem to see a movie trailer one too many times? That was the case with Runaway Jury. The first time I saw the trailer, I was blown away by the sheer size of the cast. Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, at their best, are two of the greatest actors we've seen. That pairing would be enough, but having John Cusack, Jeremy Piven and a broad ensemble of competent, if lesser known, actors seemed to be a treat.

Two months later, after probably seeing the same preview a few dozen times, I was already tired of the film. As any IMDb regular should know from, say, Cold Creek Manor, such an overabundance of marketing is a tipoff that the film is... less than great. Still, my superstitions didn't get the best of me, so I readily bought my popcorn and sat down to watch this film.




Court movies aren't generally all that brilliant. The plot formula is really quite simple: find an article about an obscure court case in last week's paper, make one lawyer the good guy and the other the bad guy. It's usually the acting that elevates a trial film above mediocrity (think A Few Good Men). However, surprisingly--unless you actually consider the title--we're offered a little more meat on the stick with Runaway Jury. While the two titans (Hoffman, Hackman) are clashing in the courtroom, an upstart juror (Cusack) displays a mind--and hidden agenda--of his own. In a sense, Runaway Jury is to court drama what The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was to westerns: no cliché high-noon staredowns from opposite ends of the street, but a three-way duel where it's not so easy to guess who to root for.

It's a treat to watch Hoffman, aware that the jury is for sale, struggle between the notions of winning his case no matter the cost and maintaining his integrity. Another nice touch is that we're clueless as to the motivations of of Cusack's and Weisz' characters--the closest the film offers to protagonists--until the very end. Are they in it for money? The politics? Are they demented poli-sci students? Who knows.

Unfortunately, Runaway Jury does maintain one of Grisham's staple flaws: the case is loaded. Hackman's character is clearly a slimeball, and his clients might be worse, so as usual, it's not too difficult to pick the "good" side.




Being in a pretty conservative, Republican-type family, one of the complaints I heard most about the film was it's subject matter: gun control. "Well, that was a liberal agenda!" was the common reaction after seeing it. I can understand that thought process, but a film's fictional political issue shouldn't have to interfere with its entertainment value. If the accused were guilty o f what they were sued over, then they were obviously out of line, and if real gun companies were to be found guilty of the same offenses, there should be no excuses made, regardless of partisan affiliation.

Filmgoers shouldn't fall into the impression that they're watching a film about an "issue"... Above all, it's a film about two great actors finally getting some screen time together. When the feud between Hoffman and Hackman's characters finally reaches boiling point, and they confront in the men's room at court, it's the movie stuff to drool over. The scene couldn't be more energized if Jim Carrey burst out from a stall attempting to cause himself serious harm, and we're reminded just how good the great actors can be.

John Cusack is the typical male Cusack in this film, though it works well for the characters. Rachel Weisz is somewhat less annoying than she tends to be, and the supporting cast trails off in spectacle from there. With a pair of leads as the film has, though, there's not likely to be any runaway audience members.



As has been stated many times for the record, Runaway Jury is yet another court drama/thriller, and though few will probably become a masterpiece as 12 Angry Men is regarded, this film comes closer than many. Grisham fans especially should catch Runaway Jury when it's released on DVD, but depending on one's tastes, this will probably make a safe rental for anyone.

703 Words · Published: 21 November 2003

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