Runaway Jury (6/10)


Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

 Runaway Jury starts out with some crazy shooting up a brokerage office.  The rest of the film is about a lawsuit against the gun manufacturers.  We never see the crazy guy who did the killing.  Apparently heís not responsible for what he did.  No, the gun manufacturers are.  And, boy, are they bad people, at least according to this film.

 And thatís the main problem with this film.  In the 20th Century, thrillers were populated by people Generally Recognized As Bad (GRAB).  No explanations were needed because audiences knew that these were the bad guys.  For example, Nazis were GRAB. Foreign spies and Monsters and serial killers were all GRAB.  If itís someone who doesnít belong to a group thatís GRAB, then they do something in the film that qualifies them, like killing or raping or kidnapping someone. But in Runaway Jury the bad guys are gun manufacturers. Did I miss something?  Has this issued been settled?  Are all gun manufacturers now GRAB?  I donít think so.  Gun control is a controversial issue with reasonable people holding strong opinions on both sides.  Since when should a Hollywood film, with all its power, determine that all gun manufacturers are bad?  But thatís what Runaway Jury ordains.  The gun manufacturers do nothing here to establish that they are bad guys.  Theyíre just there.  And they are bad.  Case closed.

 This wasnít just some Hollywood filmmaker trying to be faithful to the author of the book.  John Grishamís novel was about tobacco, not guns, certainly a more fitting target.  By now tobacco makers can arguably qualify as GRAB.  Changing the bad guys from tobacco makers to gun manufacturers was apparently Producer-Director Gary Flederís decision in order to make a political point at the risk of entertainment and honesty.

 As to the film itself, talk about science fiction!  Weíre supposed to buy the idea that a guy named Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) is a jury consultant who has a secret safe room full of computers and TV monitors with cameras trained on everything, including the courtroom and that he can control the lawyer, in this case Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison) who is a wussy lawyer if there ever was one.  He not only looks like Howdy Doody, he acts like him, jumping whenever Fitch pulls a string.  Oh, yeah, Fitch has brutal murderers at his command who will do his bidding at the snap of his finger.  Puh-leeze!

 Fitch is opposed by attorney Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman, who finally thought he had found a good film in which to act after a long string of turkeys; sorry, Dustin, wrong again), who brought a suit representing the widow of one of the guys killed.  But she doesnít want money.  No, sheís altruistic (big surprise!).  She wants those horrible gun firms to stop making those guns that kill people.  And Wendallís honorable, too.  Heís not in it for the money, either, and, boy is he incorruptible.  Heís got his jury consultant, too (against his better instincts), Lawrence Green (Jeremy Piven). But, golly, shucks, heís a good, clean-cut guy who would never dream of stooping to the depths to which Fitch dips representing those bad guy gun manufacturers.

 The plot, as if Fleder really cared, is that Nick Easter (John Cusack) gets on the jury and he and his girl friend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz) are trying to get money out of Fitch and Rohr to swing the jury their way.

 This film, which does hold your interest because you do want to see whatís going to happen, is sheer rubbish.  I am first in line to parrot the moral corruption of our system of civil justice.  But the corruption is due to avaricious, dishonest, incompetent attorneys, and lazy, biased judges (who came from the system, so play the game), and laws passed by State Legislatures manned, mostly, by attorneys, who make civil litigation enormously expensive for the litigant and financially rewarding for all attorneys, win or lose, not the organized corruption of the jury system we see here.

 The point of this movie really isnít that the jury system might possibly be corruptible, or that our system of civil justice stinks.  Itís that the people responsible for victims getting shot are not the people who do the shooting; itís the people who manufacture the guns.  Thatís it in a nutshell.

 If I want to be exposed to the left wing point of view I can watch the nightly network news reports of Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings.  If I want to be exposed to the right wing I can turn on Fox News or talk radio.  When I go to the movies, I want to leave all that behind me and just be entertained.  Watching Runaway Jury is like watching CNN for two hours.  Thereís not a hint of even-handedness.

 I rate this slightly better than average because itís a pretty good thriller and Iím a big fan of Gene Hackman, who contributes his standard, professional, entertaining, performance.  Weisz also gives a good performance.  Itís just the attitude that greatly detracts from it.  Iím not taking a position on gun control here.  Whether youíre for it or against it, making a thriller that assumes everyone accepts a controversial political point of view is an abdication of professional responsibility of the filmmakers.  Itís not as if itís a given that gun manufacturers are bad people to be equated with Nazis.  There is a legitimate debate on this point.  Who is a Director, with all the power that a Hollywood film brings to the table behind him, to take a controversial position and foist it on his audience as a given? Itís gotten to the point that Jack Valenti should come out with some additional ratings: RW (right wing), LW (left wing), and PN (politically neutral) so that audiences can know what theyíre getting themselves into before they shell out their dough.  Although, letís face it, in todayís Hollywood there wouldnít be many RW ratings.

  October 17, 2003

 The End