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The Runaway Jury (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's audio commentary; Deleted scenes with optional commentary; Selected scene narration; 7 featurettes; Scene access; Interactive menu.

GUN manufacturers replace tobacco chiefs in this big screen interpretation of John Grisham’s acclaimed novel, The Runaway Jury, which thrives on its ability to exist in a moral grey zone for most of the time.

But while the change of defendant may baffle die-hard fans of the book, there is plenty to enjoy in this taut courtroom potboiler, which places jury manipulation as the focal point for the drama, rather than the traditional courtroom fireworks between lawyers and clients.

Director, Gary Fleder, quite literally rolls out the big guns to ensure that his tale hooks viewers from the start, with the heavyweight likes of Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz primed to square off against each other.

When a major gun manufacturer is put on the stand for the death of a businessman, civil rights lawyer, Wendell Rohr (Hoffman), sees it as an excellent opportunity for a precedent-setting victory.

But he quickly finds himself pitted against Hackman’s unscrupulous jury consultant, Rankin Fitch, who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict in his clients’ favour, as well as a mysterious jury member (Cusack) and a woman on the outside (Weisz), who offer to manipulate the panel for their own financial gain.

The ensuing cat-and-mouse game proves to be a cut-throat affair, with all three sides forced to resort to increasingly desperate measures to get what they want, before the inevitable make or break finale.

For the most part, Fleder’s film is a gripping affair, buoyed by some terrific performances from its top-notch cast.

The various moral conundrums it throws up provide plenty for audiences to chew over, while the numerous twists are well-hidden for anyone who hasn’t read the novel.

It’s just a shame that, in the final analysis, the film doesn’t have the courage to see things through, watering things down somewhat with a very contrived conclusion, and neatly side-stepping the big issue - of gun control - in favour of one, emerging villain.

But while the more discerning viewer may feel deprived of a really great movie, there is still plenty of mileage to be gained from the quality of the performances, and the various manipulations and blackmails which take place along the way.

Needless to say, it’s Grisham veteran, Hackman, who steals the show, revelling in the opportunity of creating another despicable character (much like his turn in The Firm), who spews lines such as ‘trials are too important to be decided by juries’ with gloriously carefree abandon.

Whether it’s playing hardball with Weisz’s feisty go-between, or trading verbal blows with Hoffman’s honourable lawyer in a courtroom toilet, the actor appears to be having a blast, and provides an added spark to an already electric movie.

Hoffman, too, is typically strong, though more restrained than usual (allowing Hackman to hog the limelight), while Cusack brings his trademark charm and charisma to virtually every scene that he occupies.

Fleder, too, deserves credit for playing his cards close to his chest for the majority of the movie, so that it avoids the pitfalls of becoming as manipulative as its characters, thereby allowing viewers to form their own opinions and guess at the motives of each character.

And there are a number of well-staged set-pieces to ensure that proceedings don’t become too bogged down in legal wrangling.

It’s just that Hollywood’s inability to credit viewers with too much intelligence gives way to something of a spoon-fed ending, and threatens to undermine the overall power of the piece in the process.

Enter with this in mind, though, and this is still an efficient, sometimes spectacular, legal drama, which marks a welcome return to form for Grisham, and another sublime turn from Hackman.

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