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Based on the bestseller by John Grisham,Runaway Juryis a slick thriller that's exciting enough to overcome the gaps in its plot. The ultimate target has been changed: Grisham's legal assault on the tobacco industry was switched to the hot-button issue of gun control (no doubt to avoid comparison toThe Insider) in a riveting exposé of jury-tampering. Gene Hackman plays the ultra-cynical, utterly unscrupulous pawn of the gun-makers, using an expert staff and advanced electronics to hand-pick a New Orleans jury that will return a favorable verdict; Dustin Hoffman (making his first screen appearance with real-life former roommate Hackman) defends the grieving widow of a gun-shooting victim with idealistic zeal, while maverick juror John Cusack and accomplice Rachel Weisz play both ends against the middle in a personal quest to hold gun-makers accountable. It's riveting stuff, even when it's obvious that Grisham and director Gary Fleder have glossed over any details that would unravel the plot's intricate design.--Jeff Shannon
Hollywood wins; everybody else loses I'm no supporter of the rights of gun makers or owners, corporate welfare or the industrial revolution in litigation. That said, I felt like I needed a long shower after watching this flick - utterly redolent in almost toxic Hollywood-style self-righteousness in a slickly manipulative wrapper. Supposedly a legal confrontation between the gun industry and the victims of gun violence, it's really a showdown between an impassioned attorney for the victims played by Hoffman, and a skilled litigation consultant played by Hackman who picks juries from an ad-hoc control of the kind probably used in "Desert Storm". Between the two are John Cusak as one of the jurors, and Rachel Weisz as a mystery woman who claims she can deliver the jury to the side that pays the most.
This probably could have made either an effective legal thriller, or a great message movie - but not both. Unfortunately, Hollywood never avoids the cake-and-eat-it-to route, in which a message movie and a thriller are conflated into a single story that gives little room for either to effectively develop. A promising tale - one that would explore the sophisticated issue of corporate ethics and industrial liability versus our national obsession with suing everybody and responsibility avoidance - is edged out by a parallel story in which Rachel Weisz plays cat-and-mouse with Hackman's evil jury consultant. The less-promising tale - in which Weisz maneuvers between Hackman and Hoffman - would have provided some cool thrills, if not sandwiched between the preachy rhetoric of the trial. The stories detract rather than compliment each other. The thriller is never convincing because the idea of Weisz playing each side against the other never takes hold - the flick so openly wears its lawyer/gun-industry animus on its sleeve that we know from the first shot which side is really in her sights. I'm all for gun-control, whether the industry is manned by everyday people representing a social, economic or racial cross-section of America, or by a closed cabal of white, god-fearing patriarchal men with southern accents like those in this movie. The movie's message: we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and if you just use your heart, you'll see things the way we do.
The story was originally aimed at the tobacco industry, supposedly to avoid confusion with the more effective "The Insider", and not because cigarettes are more popular on both sides of the screen than guns are. On second thought, I'm willing to accept that - the flick was reasonably aware of its weaknesses. Unfortunately, there's no effective lobby for bad-movie control. This isn't because Hollywood is nicer or otherwise better or than the gun industry, just comparatively harmless. Both are easily guilty for playing with the truth for a profit, but in the end one of them leaves us with an oft-painful reality that we then have to live with, while the other leaves us with fantasies no more costly than rising ticket prices and $5 buckets of popcorn.
Changing the focus ruins the story Once again, Hollywood has taken a great book and absolutely ruined it. The main problem of course is making the lawsuit about guns instead of tobacco. A large part of the drama in the book hinges on Grisham's excellent argument...cigarettes are addictive and are the only product that, when used exactly as directed, are extremely harmful or even fatal. No matter how you twist it, you can't say the same thing about guns and the trail in the movie loses its punch.
In the book, I read the lawyer's arguments about nicotine addiction and the industry's marketing strategies to hook the next generation and I started rooting for the plaintiff. There are some tricky issues regarding personal responsibility and the ridiculousness of rewarding someone for a bad choice, but on the whole, I did feel the tobacco companies needed to be prosecuted. I didn't feel the same way about the gun companies in the movie. Their products aren't addictive, a man made the free choice to use it to harm others. Why are they responsible for his actions? He could have killed his victims with a baseball bat, does that make Louisville responsible? The lawsuit was just another plaintiff seeking to capitalize on a tragedy and it disgusted me.
So why the change? Well obviously the filmmakers felt their personal gun-hating agenda was more important than sticking to the source material. (That and perhaps a few threats or bribes from the tobacco industry?) The liberal anti-gun drivel runneth over and they sacrificed a great story to make a political statement. I am not pro-gun, but I believe in personal choice and responsibility, something Hollywood quit caring about years ago.
If that isn't enough, it's a boring movie. The tiresome courtroom droning is broken up by a few token action scenes and it all runs waaay too long. They should have shaved off at least another 20 minutes. It doesn't help that everyone is completely miscast. Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman are fine actors, but Hoffman is too soft spoken for the flamboyant Rohr and Hackman isn't slimey and ruthless enough for Fitch. John Cusack is a waste all the way around and doesn't have the charisma to make me believe he could influence the other jurors the way he did.
The book is a hundred times more exciting than the movie. Skip this tired piece of Hollywood drivel and read it.Excellent Courtroom Thriller In this movie, the gun industry is on trial. Should gun manufacturers be allowed to pedal their wares without any thought of responsibility? To tell the truth, this movie doesn't really focus on that. This movie focuses on the intrigues involved in jury trials. Is it possible to buy a jury? Can an inside man really influence the direction a jury will decide? These intriguing ideas are examined. As can be expected from this all star cast, the acting is very solid. Also, I'd like to say that the direction and story are very good as well. If you haven't read the book, you won't really know which side the case will fall to until the end of the movie. Overall, this is a great courtroom thriller.