Title: Runaway Jury
Release Date: 2003
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 127 Min
Distributor and Production Company: 20th Century Fox, Regency
Director; Writer: Gary Fleder, screenwriters were Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman, based on a novel by John Grisham
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz
Technical: Panavision Widescreen, digital
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What struck me is how trial lawyers are forced to take sides, and cannot be objective. The paradigm of my own writing is "open source" to be as objective as possible. If I were publicly committed to a point of view by my job, I could not do this.
Of course, this is
more than adversarialism. Jury tampering is a
crime; Jimmy Hoffa went to jail for that in the 1950s, and remember the film Hoffa!
John Cusack, playing Nick Easter, comes across as
too likeable, a sort of athletic semi-geek like Jake 2.0 on UPN, to do
anything wrong himself. So he is set up as a “freelance juror” ready to swing
the jury to the highest bidder. But I don’t really read the story (at least
as in the movie) as his being on the take. He and his girlfriend manipulate
the attorneys because they want to be important, to make a statement, like
Nathaniel Heatwole did about the
And here we get to
the political message, where Grisham uses his complex plotting to go beyond
exposing corruption but to make political points, perhaps from the liberal
side, as well. Here, we ask, why is a gun manufacturer in
Also, I love Grisham’s fascination with the South, those hot torrid, moss covered areas that might be flooded out of existence by the next direct hit from a hurricane (in this film, New Orleans) or another mid-continent earthquake. Oh well, one of the military ban attorneys told me that I was a walking John Grisham novel myself. And I am.
Hackman and Hoffman perform their roles with their usual ardor, Hackman (the jury consultant) coming across as a real right-wing zealot.
I wasn’t as concerned as a lot of the movie critics about all the geeky gadgetry the jury consultants used to spy on the jurors. All you need for that is to hire a few teenage hackers.
The original book is different; the enemy there is big
tobacco (a big deal with the Attorney General in
There are several other John Grisham novels made into major films.
Paramount, dir. Sydney Pollack) presents Tom Cruise as the everyman hero,
this time a young lawyer Mitch McDeere, who goes to
work for the “wrong” law firm in Memphis after graduating from law school. In
the book, the opening page is chilling, as Avery Tolar
(Gene Hackman) picks out his candidates – being
married is “mandatory.” McDeere and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn)
seem to have it all until the “cheating” of the firm (and its connections to
the mob) unravels, and soon McDeere finds himself
on the run to get his life back, evading both “goons” and “fibbies” on the bridges across the
The Pelican Brief (1993, Warner Bros, dir. Alan J. Paluka) supposes that two Supreme Court justices have been assassinated. Denzel Washington plays Gary Grantham, the investigative reporter, and Julia Roberts is Darby Shaw, the law student drawn to investigate the deaths by her professor (Sam Shepard) and write a “brief” that could bring down the president. That led to my colloquial term where a “pelican brief” is a document written by an average person that could cause political change.
A Time to Kill (1996, Warner Bros/Regency, dir.
Joel Schumacker) presents Jake Tyler Brigance (Matthew McConaughey)
as a young lawyer defending a black man charged with killing two men who
raped his daughter. The KKK has a rebirth in this film, and gets dangerous
with burnings and destruction. The film brings back the mood of “To Kill a
Mockingbird.” I stopped on vacation in
The Rainmaker (1997, Paramount/Zoetrope, dir. Francis Ford Coppola) presents Matt Damon as the hero, Rudy Baylor, and ambitious young lawyer who goes to work for Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke) and pretty soon is, with sidekick Deck Shifflet (Danny Devito), is on his own. With no money, he moves into a client’s rooming house and becomes a shirtless lawn boy (sorry, still no chest hair). But pretty soon he has a big case fighting for a young leukemia patient (Johnny Whitworth) and his mother, whose claim is turned down by a fraudulent insurance company, represented by a cheesy lawyer played by Jon Voight. As Devito says, everyone wants to go after the insurance company. But Rudy shows real character over and over (despite a less than perfect background) in his willingness to fight for the little guy.
For pure courtroom drama we go back into film history, to
the black-and-white didactic Inherit the Wind (1960,
United Artists, 128 min) with Spencer Tracy as defense attorney Clarence Darrow and Frederic March as prosecutor William Jennings
Bryan in the 1925 “monkey” trial of a teacher John Scopes for providing
information on evolution in Tennessee public schools. The movie moves the
(1950, Janus/Criterion, dir. Akira Kurosawa,
stories by Ryunosoke Akutagawa,
87 min, sug PG-13) is an exercise in “truth
detection” or reality testing. In 12th Century
12 Angry Men (1957, United Artists, dir.
Sidney Lumet, story Reginald Rose, 96 min). This
black-and-white film takes place almost entirely within a jury deliberation
room. Twelve men deliberate a case of a Hispanic male accused of stealing his
father, with one eyewitness who claims to have seen the stabbing through the
windows of a moving elevated subway train. One juror, Henry Fonda, votes not
guilty to provoke discussion, and gradually “reasonable doubt” builds up and
persuades more and more jurors, until unanimous. I was once on a jury in
Michael Clayton (2007, Warner Bros. /
Castle Rock /
People could look at my resume and ask questions about seeming contradictions. The movie seems like a personal lesson.
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