Runaway Jury [2003]

Director: Gary Fleder
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 122 minutes

Runaway Jury: Based on the bestseller by John Grisham, Runaway Jury is a slick thriller that's exciting enough to overcome the gaps in its plot. The ultimate target has been changed: Grisham's legal assault on the tobacco industry was switched to the hot-button issue of gun control (no doubt to avoid comparison to The Insider) in a riveting exposé of jury-tampering. Gene Hackman plays the ultra-cynical, utterly unscrupulous pawn of the gun-makers, using an expert staff and advanced electronics to hand-pick a New Orleans jury that will return a favorable verdict; Dustin Hoffman (making his first screen appearance with real-life former roommate Hackman) defends the grieving widow of a gun-shooting victim with idealistic zeal, while maverick juror John Cusack and accomplice Rachel Weisz play both ends against the middle in a personal quest to hold gun-makers accountable. It's riveting stuff, even when it's obvious that Grisham and director Gary Fleder have glossed over any details that would unravel the plot's intricate design. --Jeff Shannon Class Action: In this high-concept legal thriller, directed by Michael Apted, Gene Hackman plays a flamboyant lawyer who specializes in civil-liberties and consumer-advocacy cases, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays his daughter, an ambitious associate in a slick corporate-law firm. The script-by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames, and Samantha Shad-contrives to pit the father and the daughter against each other in a negligence suit against an auto manufacturer. Sparks, both personal and professional, are meant to fly, but the Hollywood engineers who designed this piece of product have cut a few too many corners: the thriller plotting is predictable, the family drama is broad and sentimental, and the connections between them are facile. Yet Hackman and Mastrantonio somehow manage to impart lifelike rhythms to their scenes together: their skill keeps this rickety contraption from stalling completely. -Terrence Rafferty Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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