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 Runaway Jury
 Critic's Rating
   [C-]
 Date Posted
   16th March, 2004
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Cast: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Gary Fleder

Mediocrity when masked by self-importance is arrogance. "Runway Jury," based on yet another popular John Grisham novel, is guilty of overbearance because it wants to have its cake and eat it too. The film attempts to impress upon us a brand of social commentary so deeply roasted in the sugary fluff of Hollywood that it smells. Moreover, here is a cinematic misadventure which exists within the realm of high-concept courtroom drama but one that seldom understands and often refuses to acknowledge its own genre.

Shot with an unnecessary whip-flash style (send your fan mail to director Gary Fleder) and oddly written (by no less than four screenwriters) like an espionage thriller, the problems are obvious from the word go. Let's take an example: When we are introduced to Gene Hackman who plays Rankin Fitch, a ruthless manipulator hired by a major gun manufacturer as defense counsel in a high-stakes lawsuit, he wastes no time telling an exasperated cabbie all about the poor driver's life based on a hawk-like observation of only a few photographs and one parking ticket. So, it should come as no surprise if you feel that "Runaway Jury" wants to establish its misplaced cleverness at the first opportunity. Credit to be given where its due, strong acting supports an otherwise muddled script with John Cusack in the role of Nicholas Easter, a smug conman that finagles his way into the jury of the city's biggest case. Lover and partner-in-crime, Marlee (the ever-luminous Rachel Weisz), provides Easter the assistance on the outside to swing the 11-member jury to a verdict in favour of the highest bidder either defense counsel, Finch, or his righteous opponent, Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). Easter and Marlee are self-serving matchstick men who will blindly sacrifice justice and morality for personal gain. That these characters redeem themselves by the film's conclusion is a foregone conclusion unlike the story itself.

Holding the fort, when the film veers off its main theme of corruption and courtroom wrangles, are Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. Much like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann's phenomenal "Heat," these two giants meet for only about five minutes to argue their choices and paths but set the screen alight with a ferocity that only craft and experience can provide. Though we never really buy the characters they play (to us they are Hackman and Hoffman first) this sequence is both entertaining and intelligent. Even under the glare of their formidable celebrity status, we are willing to submit ourselves because there is no pretense or gimmick at work here; just two old hands sparring out the differences in their ideologies.

In the end no matter how differently you drink your glass of water, it will still taste the same. "Runaway Jury" dares to believe that technical polish and stalwart actors will trick us into purchasing contrivance instead of verity and spiritless entertainment in place of substance. What arrogance! - Adnan Khan

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