2003, Gary Fleder
I really miss the days when there was a surplus of serious, adult-themed thrillers with skilled actors taking on relatively conventional parts and elevating the material to something entertaining without trying to force itself to be exceptional. These days we don’t get those middle-ground kind of films anymore, it’s usually either the small independents or the large blockbusters or awards prospects, with nothing in between. Runaway Jury is one of those middle films that you don’t see anymore, and while it is definitely nothing to write home about, I still found it an extremely enjoyable ride with a solid cast of some of my favorite actors.
John Cusack (my eternal comfort food of actors) and a pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz take on the roles of lovers making a play to sell off a jury to the highest bidder. Cusack’s character gets inside while Weisz works to play to the opposing counsels. Dustin Hoffman is the morally upright prosecutor looking to make the big bad gun company pay for their weapons being used in an office shooting and, despite a questionable New Orleans accent, he’s clearly having a lot of fun in the role, which shows. Gene Hackman opposes him, but not in court; rather he’s the master jury manipulator, working behind the scenes for the defense to try and rig the jury to bring the outcome of the case his way.
Directed by Gary Fleder, it has a slick style that fits well with the John Grisham source material, but really it’s the actors who elevate this above its conventions. Cusack brings his usual charismatic humanity to the leading role which makes it easy to root for this guy even when he’s doing questionable things, and Weisz is plenty alluring and intelligent. Hackman and Hoffman both command the screen, working into their own distinct personalities that they’ve cultivated over the years. Neither stretches far beyond what you’re used to seeing from them, but they have more presence than the large majority of actors and they draw you to them in each of their scenes.
All four provide for some thrills that keep this one moving along at an exciting, well-balanced pace and the script gives just the right amount of turns to keep you focused and guessing. The final reveal perhaps opens up one too many plot holes with everything that comes before it, but nothing to an extreme that would be very detrimental to the overall pleasurable experience that the film had accomplished to that point. Runaway Jury is a fine, if unexceptional, film that makes me nostalgic for the days not too long ago when we could get these kind of pictures on a routine basis.
Film #247 of The 365 Film Challenge.