Published Oct 01, 2003As long as John Grisham continues to pen books, Hollywood will continue to adapt them for the big screen. Though this time the adaptation has been altered to convey a different message to its audience and switched a courtroom attack on the tobacco industry to one on evil gun manufacturers. The reasoning for the alteration could be for more dramatics, or it could have been out of fear of gigantic cigarette corporations, but with a cast including John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, they could have taken McDonald's to court over hot coffee and still made it compelling to watch.
There's been a senseless office shooting in the United States, leaving a woman and her young son without a husband/father. We're shown that the victim was a loving dad through a series of home videos and his attempt to remember the words to a bedtime song his son wants him to sing while he tucks him in. It's all very sappy is designed to make us go along with the widow, who, with the help of Wendell Rohr (Hoffman), has now decided to make the gun manufacturers take responsibility for their weapons. The outcome of this trial will be a landmark decision, so the pressure on the jury, who will change the world's legal system forever with their ruling, is high.
With so much at stake there's no way that the defence team is going to allow the decision to rest on the shoulders of 12 blue-collared yokels, especially when the majority of the country would like nothing more than gun-toting billionaires to throw some money towards a grieving wife and her son. Rankin Fitch (Hackman) has been fudging major decisions for years, so promising the stereotypical gun industry tycoons a victory, complete with mounted heads in their tacky hunting parlour, is all in a day's work. Though Fitch wasn't expecting to have the crafty Nicholas Easter (Cusack) on a jury he thought he could manipulate. Along with his equally clever girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), Easter knows how to buy a decision from a jury, but he completes the task from the inside and gets into the hearts of his fellow man, rather than utilising the threatening tactics Fitch pulls off.
Runaway Jury plays out pretty much the same as all Grisham adaptations. There are moments of powerful acting and sticky situations coupled with some immensely boring dialogue, dated action sequences and over-the-top attempts to deliver emotionally-charged drama. Fitch's "secret lair" is straight out of a comic book, with far too many assistants and computer technology for keeping tabs on the housewives and blind people that make up his jury.
The film works well enough to be considered successful in taking such fine actors and using them to the best of their ability. There's no wasted talent, but that is also the fault of the picture as well. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, this is a very long-winded film that seems to leave no stone unturned, trying to give equal billing to its lead cast and develop their characters as much as possible. The problem is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and trying to cover the lives of Marlee and Nicholas, the attorneys and an entire jury is overwhelming. Still, it raises some interesting questions about the forever debatable Fifth Amendment, as well as the legal system in general. When you think about it, can you really blame anyone for not wanting a monumental decision that will affect the entire nation being left up to people who shiver at the thought of jury duty? (Fox)