Picks and Pans Review: Runaway Jury

UPDATED 10/27/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 10/27/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz

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This tense thriller is a reasonably intelligent, colorfully acted, entertaining-enough-to-warrant-going-out-on-a-Saturday-night movie. Runaway Jury, based on a 1996 novel by lawyer-turned-megaselling-author John Grisham, won't end up on 2003's 10 Best lists, but it isn't trying for that kind of impact. Rather, Jury aims—and succeeds—at keeping viewers guessing what's going to happen next.

The designated evildoers here are so-called "jury experts"—the folks paid lavishly to advise attorneys on which potential jurors to pick in hopes of landing a desired verdict. "Trials are too important to be left up to juries," sniffs Rankin Fitch (Hackman), the film's slickly villainous jury consultant. Rankin soon rues that he didn't advocate dumping juror Nick Easter (Cusack) from a big-money case against his corporate client, a gun manufacturer, in New Orleans. Easter, for reasons that won't become clear until near the end, tells both sides through an intermediary (Weisz) that he can swing the verdict for $10 million. Will either Fitch or the liberal lawyer (Hoffman) who's suing meet Easter's price?

Director Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word) keeps the story moving briskly so that one doesn't have time to focus on its improbabilities, but he also shows the good sense to pause periodically to give Hoffman and Hackman, two of Hollywood's wiliest vets, time to judiciously chew scenery. As the seemingly morally ambivalent hero, Cusack delivers a canny turn. (PG-13)

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