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"Runaway Jury"

Directed by Gary Fleder.
Written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman.  Based on the novel by John Grisham.
Starring John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  10/28/03 


Movies based on John Grisham books have had quite a wild ride; add “Runaway Jury” to the short list of these adaptations that are actually good films, along with “The Firm.”

“Runaway Jury” is about a case in New Orleans, where a seedy lawyer named Fitch (Gene Hackman) is trying to win the case for the nation’s major gun manufacturers by tainting the jury pool that is being recruited for the case.  By “tainting”, I mean investigating, threatening, beating and sometimes nearly killing finalists for the case to coerce them into ruling in favor of those evil gunmakers.  On the other side of the coin is Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), a good guy lawyer that is representing a plaintiff that has been widowed thanks to the work of an automatic pistol made by one of the gunmakers.  In the middle?  Well, that’s where 34-year-old video game store worker Nick Easter (John Cusack) comes in—he and his friend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) are trying to swing the jury to squeeze cash out of both sides.  To do it, Easter tries to get on the jury for the big trial, and once he becomes one of the 12 jurors, he uses every trick in the book to keep the other jurors on his side.

Director Gary Fleder does great work with “Runaway Jury”, but he has help thanks to stellar casting and motivated anchors in Hackman and Hoffman.  In fact, Hackman makes his scenes fun mostly because it looks like he cares about the film he is appearing in; man, I can’t tell you how much of a louse he was in “Behind Enemy Lines” because he knew he was making a dogshit film.  By the time we get our requisite face-off scene late in the film between the two stars, I was lappin’ it up.  Cusack is his normal self here; since everyone loves John Cusack, it can be believed that he could find a way to make 11 other jury members love him too, so by the time he has scored them a fancy lunch at a restaurant outside the courthouse, you love him as much as everyone onscreen does.  Support by the lengthy list of familiar faces is solid—man, big studio productions can really be a lot of fun if you have seen tons of other movies, because everyone shows up in them.  Let me put it to you this way—even Jennifer Beals, from “Flashdance”, is in this film.  Wow.

The pacing is great, New Orleans looks great in the film, the reasons behind why Nick and Marlee are trying to make so much cash kept me interested.  The film does run a little long and I wasn’t in love with the ending; also, some bits from the book must have been left out, because I’m still trying to figure out how Nick could have luckily received a jury request through the mail in the first place for the case in question.

Overall, “Runaway Jury” works, even if you don’t like Grisham yarns in the first place.  And, being a big production in October, you get trailers for like five potentially great films like “The Missing” (from Ron Howard, who still hasn’t made a bad movie) and “Master and Commander.”

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09