Runaway Jury


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Runaway Jury
The Masked Reviewer

John Grisham is a writer.  He writes books.  Now, some people talk about how kids today don't read enough, that all they do is watch TV and play videogames, but if you read any of John Grisham's books, you'll know why.  Why?  Because he writes books that translate perfectly to film.  In fact, the Masked Reviewer would argue that John Grisham's writing style is very similar to those people who write book versions of movies.  He's got some interesting plot ideas, but he's not exactly Hemmingway.  Muriel, that is.

The big year for John Grisham was 1993.  The Firm (1993) and The Pelican Brief (1993) both came out that year (1993).  The following year (1994) saw The Client (1994).  Subsequently, we've had The Chamber (1996), A Time to Kill (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), and The Gingerbread Man (1997).  What do these films have in common?  Law.  Legal.  Judges.  Juries.  John Grisham writes a lot of legally thrillery books-to-be-movies.  So, if you like that sort of thing, guess what? Runaway Jury is a legal thriller.  Grisham has found his niche, and he's not leaving it.

In the past, Grisham adaptations have attracted some big name directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, Joel Schumacher, Sydney Pollack, and Robert Altman.  This time, Gary Fleder takes the director's chair (and if you're reading this, Mr. Fleder, 20th Century Fox would like it back).  Fleder directed Impostor (2002), Don't Say a Word (2001), and Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995).

But enough lists!  What about the movie? 

There are some issues of plot and point-of-view, but to deal with them, some details about the movie must be mentioned.  Sorry.  It can't be avoided.  It's not giving anything away you wouldn't find out as the movie starts, so don't go polishing up your shotgun and come hunting for the Masked Reviewer...but the film deals with a lawsuit against the gun industry.  The film paints the "pro-gun" side as evil; guns are bad, guns kill people, gun makers hide behind the Second Amendment, and gun makers throw money around to win their cases.  The "anti-gun" side is portrayed as the good guys. 

The trouble is, the "good guys" seem to be engaging in things that are just as bad as the "bad guys".  That is, the anti-gun people don't focus on the merits of the case in the film, instead they use emotional manipulation.   It is, in many ways, exactly the same as what the "bad guys" are doing.

The Masked Reviewer felt that an important element of the case was never explained.  Why would gun manufacturers be liable if some nut takes one of their guns and does damage with it?  With the tobacco industry, one can understand the basis of the cases brought against them.  But with the gun industry?  Does that mean that manufacturers of box cutters are liable for billions in damages from 9-11?  If someone hangs himself, can he (or, his next-of-kin) sue the rope manufacturer?  There's a mention in the film of a fat person suing a fast-food restaurant for making them fat.  But, that issue isn't explained or resolved.

Sure, it's just a movie.  No one wants to listen to hours of legal mumbo-jumbo.  Not even lawyers do.  But without explaining those issues, you're left with a movie that seems to be pushing an anti-gun agenda.  That's okay if you're anti-gun, but if you're pro-gun, you'll probably find it very distracting.  If you're neither anti-gun nor pro-gun (ambivalent-gun?) then you might wonder why these issues weren't explained.

Aside from that, the film features excellent performances, especially from Gene Hackman, who is a joy to watch.  Dustin Hoffman is also solid, though he's got some weird southern accent things happening...sometimes it's there, other times it's not, and other times he sounds like he did in Tootsie (1982).  John Cusack gives a good performance, though he wears too much eye make-up.  Rachel Weisz is good as well.

The film also features Bruce McGill (D-Day from Animal House) playing a judge.  He seems to always get roles as senators, judges, sheriffs, or other people in authority.  He seemed like such a slacker in Animal House, so it's nice to see that he's straightened up and flying right.

There are several characters who seem like they may have been more important in the book, such as an expert on juries played by Jeremy Piven.  He's there, but he doesn't do much.  Kind of like Peter Tork in the Monkees. 

The plot is interesting, and it has a couple of nice twists and turns that Grisham fans will enjoy. 

All in all, it'd be a fine movie if not for the incongruities in plot caused by the filmmaker's agenda-pushing.  If you're going to promote an agenda, at least make it plausible.  Give people a reason to understand and accept your agenda.  As it is, it's just clunky. 

If you love guns, you'll probably hate the anti-gun leanings of Runaway Jury.  If you hate guns, you'll probably be rooting for the "good guys".  If, like the Masked Reviewer,  you don't like films that promote a certain agenda (especially at the cost of making a coherent movie), Runaway Jury may annoy you.  Sure, it's a movie, not a political debate, but it's sort of like watching Richard Nixon give a speech about how Monica Lewinsky did so much damage to the integrity of the White House.  Okay.  Fine.  He can do that.  But, some people will be left with a couple of questions for Nixon after that speech.

If you love Hackman, he gives a great performance in his, and he's worth checking out.  Acting great, story somewhat interesting, political proselytizing and unanswered questions annoying.

If you loved Jury Duty with Pauly Shore, this is kind of like that, only different.


Expectation from the Title: When little Sally runs away from home, her parents decide to sue Sally for childhood breach of contract.  A group of twelve angry homeless children show up to teach Sally's parents the errors of their ways.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Gene Hackman seems so nice for such a bad, bad man.

The Pros: Gene Hackman is great.  Interesting Grishamesque thriller bits.

The Cons: Too many things don't make sense, the message of the movie gets muddied by lack of explanations.

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