The Runaway Jury
by Kandel G. Eaton
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
--the Serenity Prayer of
As an avid fan of anything
written by John Grisham, I was drunk on human sensation and heart-pounding
danger. Insurance corporations, angry mobs, the mob, anti-establishment
sentiment, assaults, disease and explosions, are all classic
Grisham themes. The Runaway Jury is excellently produced,
directed and best of all, written. It considers the most mundane
of civic tasks, jury duty, which is as loathsome and inescapable
to us as our daily chores.
film challenges our common "oops, missed it" attitude
about jury duty. And since the film, I've personally discovered
the devil in legal process details, and have yet to stop thinking
about these characters who have been smoothly shaken (not stirred)
by sophisticated individual agendas.
The film opens with a disgruntled
ex-stock broker gunning down his colleagues, as seen from the
life of Jacob Woods. Dylan McDermott plays the slaughtered victim,
who, ironically, was unceremoniously dumped from the Practice,
a TV show now irredeemable from its glorious past. The Runaway
Jury also seeks to redeem its violent past. It adds many
coincidences of incidents that parallel real life, giving them
greater unpredictable dimension. The audience's attention over
hunger and thirst is ignored to focus in on its presented issues:
Columbine-type flashbacks, unreported legal ethical violations
by all parties, and invasions of privacy no government would
even think of perpetrating. It is a thrilling sleeper that has
Money, as always, is the driving force. It is a curse and addiction,
made before by buying a movie ticket and necessary evil for a
happy-ever-after box office ending. The film has lived up to
its Hollywood hype, but unfortunately the audience isn't buying
it in the theater venue. This same philosophic view, ironically,
has been put forth inside the film.
As the character Rankin Fitch
says "Trials are too important to be left up to juries."
This latest masterwork of film is NOT for people who can't think
for themselves. They won't appreciate the artistry and talent
it took to bring this dull and witless topic to life. All the
characters keep the audience wondering what will happen next
because they each have so many choices to make, even after they
have decided on their particular course of action.
The chameleon protagonist Marlee/Gabrielle portrayed by Rachel
Weisz adds a brilliant touch of elegance, and another member
to Grisham's growing list of intelligent female characters (at
last!). Its true drama involves planted juror Nick Easter (deftly
played by coy John Cusack) vs. jury consultant Rankin Fitch (this
role is owned by classic humanitur Gene Hackman), not the widow
Woods employing New Orleans homeboy Wendell Rohr (guilessly played
by the effervescent Dustin Hoffman) to sue the gun manufacturers
for loss of consortium.
There are no settlements here,
which probably is what would have happened in a real courtroom.
Our deepest fears about lawyers have been illuminated by the
lack of importance the courtroom has in the film. All the attorneys
put other interests first, and serve their clients only to the
extent they profit from such contact. This film is a testimonial
to the survival of the most greedy.
The Runaway Jury ham-handedly deals with gun manufacturers.
Oddly none of the characters makes any use of a gun. They break
walls and smash windows, set fires, destroy equipment, stalk,
photograph, phone, threaten, bribe with millions and cajole at
their whims, but not one of the main characters wields a gun.
The hot topic of gun control is second to the perpetual confrontations
of the characters. As anti-climatic as it may be, selling guns
is the raison d'etre for the manipulations to gain power, revenge,
and money. But this is only briefly explained after the case
The same trial-style has been
done in real life with tobacco cases, and less successfully with
pharmaceuticals and alcohol lawsuits. The end of this case is
just another moment in a judicial process that can't live up
to its promise because its participants see the case only as
their opportunity to cash in.
The sides in this film are
given early on, the audience need only ponder the "what-ifs,"
therein eagerly to participate and explore further into its issues.
As with all Hollywood endings, the entirety of fixing a jury
without being caught comes down to a conscience with multiple
directions (similar to string theory in the field of physics)
and an astonishing lack of universality that barely avoids preachy
moralism. Being right wins the case, retiring the evil and cashing
in all in one fell swoop relieves some pain and suffering of
Each victory is fragile and
temporary, as life is, as human beings are.
The Serenity Prayer goes on: "Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway
to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not
as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in
this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Then, again, for further subornation
of process, there is always the
Posted November 5, 2003