Guilty of Great Drama
From its intense opening scene to the last minute of the film, Runaway Jury delivers powerful drama. With a script adapted from John Grishman's popular book and the all-star casting of John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz, one would expect nothing less.
Dustin Hoffman plays Wendall Rohr; a New Orleans attorney representing a young widow in a civil suit against the manufacturer she holds responsible for a random shooting that resulted in her husband's death.
All Rohr needs to win his case is a sympathetic jury. But working behind the scenes, in what looks like the War Room at the White House, is Rankin Fitch (Hackman), a ruthless and determined jury consultant. Fitch has been paid millions by the weapons company to ensure the jury delivers a not-guilty verdict.
Only moments after the jury selection begins, things start to happen. Nick Easter (Cusack) is assigned to the jury and immediately starts swaying its members toward one idea or another. Meanwhile, both Fitch and Rohr receive anonymous phone calls from a woman (Weisz) who tells them that the jury is in her hands, and she will deliver it to the highest bidder.
The action and drama escalate as Marlee (Weisz) proves her control with strange dealings within the sequestered jury room. The stakes go up as the French Quarter becomes the proving ground for all parties.
Cusack is perfect in his portrayal of Nick. Easy going, warm and sly, he folds the jury into his hands like a priest orchestrating a prayer among humble servants.
Hoffman certainly has the talent to be a convincing Rohr -- a died-in-the-wool believer in the law. But about one-third into the film he starts to pick up tics and characteristics from his amazing performance in Tootsie. Unfortunately, that behavior constantly distracted me from the part he was supposed to play here.
Hackman has a history working on Grishman's stories (The Firm, The Chamber) and he offers an Oscar-worthy turn as Fitch. A man who allows for no error or screw-ups among his team, he may not sweat under the collar of his starched white shirt, but eventually his veins protrude with tension as if a noose is around his neck. It's more than his fear of losing the money or facing the wrath of those who hired him. Fitch is a man who does not lose. He's determined to beat Rohr and get the best of Marlee and Nick -- at any cost.
In addition to the film's excellent pacing under Gary Fleder's fine direction, the plot presents intriguing and disturbing possibilities. Can a jury really be maneuvered as in this film?
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for violence, language and thematic elements.)