Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Runaway Jury

Lowdown: Unconventional competition for the jury’s vote at a key trial.
Court dramas come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the common element with the majority is their focus on the main issue debated in the trial. Runway Jury tries to throw some new light at the genre by focusing its attention on how juror’s vote are won regardless of the trial’s subject matter.
Courtesy of author John Grisham, we witness an unconventional trial: a weapons company is sued for selling the guns that enables a murder to take place. Given this could set an unwelcome precedent for the gun industry, they open their coffers wide for the defence and hire a specialist (Gene Hackman) to “sort things out”. He starts by using high tech measures to survey potential jurors in order to map those he wants to sit the trial by following them in their daily lives with cameras and such. Yep, not the most credible start ever to a film.
The defense is not too far behind in its efforts, although it uses conventional measures to screen jurors. The trick comes when one of the jury members (John Cusack) offers to sell the jury’s vote to both sides and provides several examples of his ability to influence the rest of the jury to do things they wouldn’t normally do; he even manages that without them noticing his influence. Between the three sides of the debate, Hackman, Cusack (and his aid Rachel Weisz) and the state attorney set out to fix the world (Dustin Hoffman), us viewers need to decide who is crooker. Or rather, where is the justice in a modern day trial?
Runaway Jury is set at New Orleans. Released in 2003, those were the days before Katrina came for a visit, which gives the film a bit of a historical flare. Couple that with the large number of A list stars at hand and you would think that Runaway Jury should be a very good film; sadly, it is another case of high potential but poor delivery due to the American way of making films for the accounting department.
I lay the blame squarely at director Gary Fleder. Back in 1995 I quite liked his Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, but his work with Runaway Jury is the opposite of his earlier work’s cool pacing. Granted, he has to deal with a script of poor reliability that stretches things too far to be plausible, even for New Orleans. Still, there is no justification for treating your crowd like they’re dumb and making every scene flashy and bombastic to the point of making me think this was a Tony Scott film. It just feels like a concentration of cheap and nasty thrills instead of a film dealing with potent issues of morality that questions the very foundations of our justice system.
Worst scenes: For a film that prides itself on some high tech stuff, Runway Jury is grossly outdated. The mobile phones people use, or the "MP3 player" that plays and doesn't play a role in the film, are all museum pieces yet they were meant to impress.
Overall: Not the best scripted film ever, but definitely not as well made as it could have been. 2 out of 5 stars.

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