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Runaway Jury (2004)  

Review: written June 2007

Top pedigree, middling result.

Another John Grisham thriller is churned out as a star-studded movie. It seems the books with the most thrills have been taken, as this is somewhat pedestrian, although still entertaining.

So what's it about? A big trial against the gun manufacturers is in progress, and both sides are anxious to have the jury on their side. The gun manufacturers hire Gene Hackman, representing the dark corporate side of jury manipulation. However, the apple-cart is upturned when it turns out that the jury is already being manipulated and may be for sale, engineered by someone on the jury and an accomplice (Weisz).

The collection of stars is fantastic - Hackman, Hoffman, Cusack, Weisz. In fact, as the interesting extras point out, Hackman and Hoffman have never shared screen time before. Seeing them in their one big screen moment together is the highlight of the movie. Hackman does not quite bring the same complexity to the role as he did to his other Grisham movie, `The Firm', but he lends real gravitas to his unscrupulous jury consultant. Hoffman is unusually restrained for the most part, to play a convincing attorney, but it's Cusack once again who shows himself as a truly natural talent, who has the ability when on form, to morph into just about any role he is given with ease. Here, the entertainment is in watching him manipulate the jury with some applied psychology, while his own motivation remains obscured until a time of his choosing.

Most of the movie is a bidding war and cat and mouse game, until the final denouement unveils the true motivation in a reasonably satisfying way. Along the way, the thriller elements seem shoehorned in, with the real joy in watching the process of choosing and manipulating the jury - the indictment of the system the movie is aiming at.

It's a solid enough story, and well told - but somehow you get the feeling the source material was never as cinematic as Grisham's previous movie adaptations. The cast and acting, especially by Hackman and Cusack, make this worthwhile. For legal thriller buffs, it won't disappoint, but it's not the real classic it might have been.

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