Runaway Jury

2003, Movie, PG-13, 127 mins

Review

RUNAWAY JURY
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"Trials are too important to be decided by juries," quips jury consultant extraordinaire Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), the man you want whispering in your attorney's ear when it's jury selection time. Two years after a disgruntled day trader shot his way through an office full of former co-workers, laid-back New Orleans lawyer Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) is attempting the impossible: Representing the young widow (Joanna Going) of a murdered broker (an uncredited Dylan McDermott) in her wrongful-death suit against the gun manufacturer. Knowing full-well that no one ever wins gun cases — juries invariably side with the manufacturer — Rohr reluctantly hires jury consultant Lawrence Green (Jeremy Piven) to advise in juror selection. The defense, however, has sprung for a much bigger fish, since a negative verdict will leave them vulnerable to a flood of civil suits. Their consultant, the brilliant Fitch, has been hired to orchestrate their attorney's (Bruce Davison) own selection, and Fitch goes way beyond mere psychological profiling to choose his jurors. He uses undercover agents and hi-tech surveillance equipment to gather all there is to know — and then some — about the entire jury pool, the better to weed out the unsympathetic in favor of those who might be vulnerable to arm-twisting when it comes time to deliberate. One prospective juror, shleppy video-game dealer Nick Easter (John Cusack), has no apparent desire to serve on any jury, but is beginning to suspect he's being watched. Once the trial begins, both Rohr and Fitch are contacted by someone (Rachel Weisz) offering to sell the jury to the highest bidder, and it becomes clear to both sides that someone else entirely is pulling the strings. There's not a whole lot of moral ambiguity in this entertaining tale of corruption and righteousness: the good are very good and the bad are downright evil (and no one does evil quite like Hackman). And while the film is obviously designed to confirm your worst fears about the process of trial-by-jury before restoring your faith in the basic decency of those who serve, it's hard not to leave with the lingering suggestion that even the most well-meaning juries are easily manipulated. The screenplay is based on one of John Grisham's best-selling novels, but surprisingly little of the film actually takes place in the courtroom — which, in a way, is exactly the point. Nevertheless, it's a clever legal thriller, one that thankfully doesn't twist itself into knots trying to keep audiences off guard. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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