When a young widow in New Orleans brings a civil suit against the powerful corporate consortium she holds responsible for her husband's murder, she sets in motion a multi-million dollar case. But it's a suit that may be won even before it begins--based solely on the selection, manipulation and, ultimately, the attempted "theft" of the jury. Representing the widow is Wendall Rohr, a courtly Southern lawyer with a moral center and a heartfelt passion for the case he's presenting. His opponent is ostensibly the attorney representing the corporation. But in reality, defense counsel is only the front man for Rankin Fitch, a brilliant and ruthless jury consultant. At a high tech command center set up in an old French Quarter warehouse, Fitch and his team work on the surveillance and assessment of potential jurors. He will know everything about their lives, and strategically manipulate the jury selection process. The only acceptable result is the perfect jury to vote in favor of his client. Fitch and Rohr soon realize they're not the only ones out to win the jury. One of the jurors, Nick Easter, seems to have his own plan for swaying the panel. And a mysterious woman known only as Marlee contacts both Rohr and Fitch telling them the jury's for sale to either of them--and that the verdict won't come cheap. While the case is argued in court, a dangerous cat and mouse game begins to play out in New Orleans' French Quarter. Rohr's morality put to the test, and Fitch is poised to cross the line from selecting a jury to stealing it--no matter who gets hurt in the process.
Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman have never shared the screen before, as they do in this latest film adaptation of a paranoiac John Grisham courtroom potboiler. Yet, something feels familiar about the picture — Mr. Hackman has played this grubby-souled, hand-tailored heart of modern corruption before, and in a previous Grisham adaptation: "The Firm." This time, he's a slick jury consultant named Rankin Fitch who employs ruthless tactics to empanel a jury that will best service his client. And like "The Firm," the schematic crassness of the narrative provides an actor the opportunity to deliver some fine work. John Cusack gives one of his wiliest performances in some time, and one of his most adult, as the aging slacker who is drafted into jury duty. Apparently, the writers realize there's not much to be done with the boilerplate narrative, which involves the machinations of the jury that Fitch is laboring to bend to his own will. (Mr. Hoffman is the endearing plaintiff attorney.) You may end up wishing that the actors had found a less needlessly showoffy picture to practice their craft. Especially since half the time, they're filmed as if they were in the director's way. Gary Fleder tries to boldface his assets, though in doing so, he undermines the picture; he stages "Jury" as if it were an episode of "CSI." — Elvis Mitchell
2003-10-17 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Runaway Jury