Arguably one of the greatest advancements towards civilization was the concept of trail by a jury of your peers. The fate of the accused no longer rested with the whim of a noble or some individual local official. Chargers were made, a trial convened and both sides would present their cases leaving the outcome to a group of regular citizens. Although many of us have been called for jury duty and declined trying to avoid it, most of what most of us know about the system is gleaned from television and movies. It is understandable that juries would figure prominently in dramas, mysteries and thrillers; the process is intrinsic predisposed to the elements necessary for such categories of stories. With play/movies like ’12 Angry Men’ defining the high water mark this is a tough genre to tackle but courtroom novelist John Grisham managed to do so with exceptional élan in his bestselling novel, ‘Runaway Jury’. Recently I revisited the film treatment and was still impressed as to how hell the integrity and intensity of the story holds up. With Gary Fleder sitting the director’s chair working from a screen play by Brian Koppelman the results are expectedly above par. Between Felder’s experience with offbeat thrillers and Koppelman understanding of presenting an action driven story the foundation was set fold a rousing well-made movie.
Typical of a Grisham inspired film there are a number of balls constantly in the air simultaneously. With the filmmaker delicately keeping everything in a near perfect balance as a cat and mouse game with immense repercussions play out. This provides the audience with an overriding genre that guides the progression of the movie and how the emotions of the viewers are skillfully manipulated; suspense. Perhaps one of the more difficult formats to master but the writer and director here have accomplished a remarkable feat in bringing the taut drama from Grisham to life. In many instances the actual case at the core of the story is inconsequential; a means to spark the subsequent action. Here the case was, to use a familiar term, ripped from the headlines and is crucial to the complex, multitier plot. Here a large gun manufacturer is sued by the widow of a man murdered in a massacre at his place of work. This was based on real litigation and civil actions and active cases in higher courts have been ongoing for much of the decade since this film was first released. Not only could the verdict in this case potentially reach seven or eight figures but the president set could financial ruin the company. The stakes are extremely high and the corporation is engaging their heavy artillery.
After a prologue showing the disgruntled employing mowing down the staff of an office we quickly move into the introductory phase for the cast of characters pouring the foundation for what is to follow. The gun manufacture proceeded done a fairly common path for high profile cases, hire jury consultant. A little side note here this is hoe Oprah first encountered Doctor Phil. It is the job of these highly trained consultants to examine prospective jurors and assist in selecting members most likely to be sympathetic towards the client. In this case anyone liberal, in favor or gun control or who have been affected by gun violence would be excluded. Heading a high tech team of investigators, statisticians and psychologist is the head man at the consulting firm, Rankin Fitch (Hackman). It is his job to correlate the data produced by his team and make the final recommendation to the clients and lead defense attorney Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison). Representing the opposing side is the grieving widow, Celeste Wood, (Joanna Going), and her attorney, Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). He is a crusader who is taking the case pro bono. Proceeding over this case is the honorable Judge Frederick Harkin (Bruce McGill). There is nothing unusual about a person trying to avoid serving jury duty but one member of the current pool, Nick Easter (John Cusack), is especially anxious to get out of it. He is employed by an electronics store and makes such a fuss the judge decides to make an example of him by placing him on the jury even though he was initially rejected. His seat on the jury was the first part of a devious plot to suborn the jury steering it to his will.
As it turns out Easter and his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) are in it together; an insidious plot to shake down the defense holding the verdict hostage. Easter is charming, extremely charismatic and masterfully manipulative. These characteristics combined with an innate command of psychological control Easter is not making an idle boast in being able to sway the jury at will. To prove his claim he ingeniously manages to get a fellow juror for drinking in court. The cat and mouse game between Easter and Fitch with hundreds of millions on the line. Through Marlee a deal is offered; a favorable verdict in exchange for $10 million. When they try to kidnap Marlee the price is raised to $15 million.
The opening scene of a gunman calmly waking into a brokerage firm, takes out a gun to murder the workers. This sets the emotional direction for what follows as a story with dire, consequences. The basis of the case is surrounded in real life controversy with a heated debate over corporate responsibility for the customer use of their products. Similar cases have been made for the tobacco and fast food industries. The intensity of these issues has escalated exponentially in the last decade making this film even more pertinent then during its initial release. With such an emotionally charged scaffold supporting the story it was the ideal showcase for some amazing performances. Hoffman and Hackman is no stranger to courtroom drama with Hackman appearing in a couple of John Grisham treatments. John Cusack is one actor that people rarely place on any top list but he is a proven journeyman actor whose career straddles the cusp between character actor and leading man. Here he goes toe to toe with a pair of double Academy Award winners, Hackman and Hoffman, and alongside a best supporting actress with Ms Weisz. This is a dream cast that will enthrall you with the sheer overwhelming intensity of their performances. This might be an older film but it is worth watching and sodding to your collection.
Hackman & Hoffman Together At Last: Over 20 Minutes of Exclusive Scene
Rehearsal Footage and Interviews