RUNAWAY JURY directed by Gary Fleder, written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman, from the novel by John Grisham, produced by Fleder, Christopher Mankiewicz and Arnon Milchan, with John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Piven. 127 minutes. A 20th Century Fox release. Opens Friday (October 17). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
John Grisham stories live in a better world, where even fax machines take a moral stand, heroes toil through the rain-slicked night and villains declare, "Gentlemen, trials are too important to be left up to juries." I've never flown a flight long enough to want to read an actual Grisham novel, but I love his movies. Runaway Jury has all his best stuff - crosstalking lawyers firing technical jargon at each other, righteous young men battling corrupt father figures and a girl.
The difference here is that the girl steals the movie. Rachel Weisz marches into the middle of an acting showdown between Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman - the first time the two old Pasadena Playhouse buddies from 50 years ago have appeared in the same film - and delivers the strongest, smartest performance of her career.
She's the X-factor in a high-stakes case that pits Hackman's expert jury manipulation against Hoffman's folksy charm. At risk is the firearms industry's responsibility for an office rampage carried out with an automatic weapon.
In Grisham's novel, it was cigarettes instead of guns. But The Insider already took on the cigarette industry, and guns make for a much punchier opening. Runaway Jury is a film that paints its subtleties in Day-Glo colours, which is exactly its appeal. It's so jazzed about showing how jury selection can bring methods of market capitalism to democratic justice that it practically blows its load with ethical dilemmas, fist fights and chase scenes along those same rain-slicked streets.
Whether any of this is remotely possible hardly matters. This is a film about title-bout acting. John Cusack has a great role as a plotting juror, but it's not until he decimates a room full of other actors that he wins the right to go up against Weisz.
The showdown between Hoffman and Hackman is even more thrilling. It easily tops the De Niro-Pacino fight in Heat. Hoffman and Hackman square off in the courthouse men's room, just to underline the pissing-contest glory of it all.
Hoffman comes out bobbing and weaving, looking for an opening. Hackman counters with smooth condescension. Hoffman's ready to amp up his jittery shtick when Hackman goes over Hoffman's head and combs his mustache in the men's room mirror. Hoffman is knocked clean off his feet, and goes down swinging.
That's what Runaway Jury is all about. Big actors. Big scenes. This is a movie that can sprinkle character actors like Bill Nunn and Luis Guzmán around in the background. Jennifer Beals plays a part normally given to extras. Filmed well, Grisham entertains as ruthlessly as his villains hatch schemes. It's a pay-per-view fight.