Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Runaway Jury
Starring John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman. Directed by Gary Fleder. Written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, and Matthew Chapman, based on John Grisham’s novel. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Objection! Relevance?

Our film critic begs to be excused from this Runaway Jury.

By KRISTIAN LIN

If nothing else (and it’s unlikely to do much else), Runaway Jury will give you a flashback to the early 1990s, when Hollywood turned out movies of John Grisham novels every year. Viewers of The Firm and The Pelican Brief will recognize the territory: lawyers portrayed by A-list actors indulging in courtroom theatrics, surveillance teams invading people’s privacy, hired killers trying to do away with those who buck the system, odd bits of Southern local color, and evil men in expensive suits conspiring in back rooms over Scotch and cigars and spouting lines that beg to be punctuated by cackling laughter. (“Trials are far too important to be left up to juries.”)

The large supporting cast is the most watchable thing here. For moviegoers like me who savor the work of Hollywood character actors, this film offers up a bonanza of them, both on the jury (Cliff Curtis, Jennifer Beals, Bill Nunn, Rusty Schwimmer, an uncredited Luis Guzmán) and off it (Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Leland Orser, Jeremy Piven, an uncredited Dylan McDermott). Collectively, they upstage the headliners. John Cusack, for instance, is on auto-pilot as Nick, who’s a juror in a big-time civil suit against the gun industry and who’s less interested in the merits of the case than he is in swinging the jury in either direction for a price.

Rachel Weisz plays Nick’s girlfriend Marlee, the outside part of his operation who’s offering to sell a favorable verdict to both the plaintiff’s attorney (Dustin Hoffman) and the gun companies’ jury consultant (Gene Hackman). I’ve now seen Rachel Weisz in nine movies — in lead and supporting roles, studio pictures and indies, comedies and dramas, American and foreign — and she hasn’t made a single impression on me. She’s never made me laugh, never turned me on, never won me over, never made me hate her, never surprised me with any choice she’s made. She’s not a bad actress, but I can’t really say that she’s any good, either.

Meanwhile, Hackman and Hoffman go through their paces rather languidly. They’ve never shared the screen before, and you can’t blame the filmmakers for surrendering to the temptation of creating a tense, dramatic confrontation for them (in a men’s room, no less). However, the resulting scene is disjointed and overwritten, and the two actors never settle into a rhythm with each other. As an example of acting giants going head-to-head for the first time, this doesn’t hold a candle to the Pacino-De Niro scene in Heat.

Anyway, the movie’s surprise ending casts a new light on Nick and Marlee’s real motivations, and it’s not only overly tidy but also irredeemably cornball. For all the two main characters do to play the system, it’s Runaway Jury that’s the real cheat.


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