Judge J. Howard Sundermann
This is another John Grisham
book adapted to the screen. It is a combination of courtroom
drama, espionage thriller and heist film. The heist is of the
jury. The film opens with what has become all too common today,
an office massacre where a number of people are killed. This
scene is done well as we experience the fear and helplessness
of those in the office, but the audience is spared the visual
violence. A widow of one of the victims sues the gun company
who manufactured the weapon used by the killer. She hires Wendell
Rohr, an anti-gun lawyer, played by Dustin Hoffman. The industry
used in the book as the "bad guy" is the cigarette
industry and I'm not sure why the industry was changed to guns
in the movie. The lawyer for the defendant is almost irrelevant,
as the super jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (played terrifically
by Gene Hackman) is really running the defense team. The political
viewpoint of the film is clearly anti-gun. The executives of
the gun companies are portrayed as cartoon characters that could
care less about anything but protecting their industry and are
willing to win at all costs. This is why they hired Hackman,
who has never lost a case.
Part of the fun of the film is
watching Hackman in his control room with the computers and large
screens from where he is seemingly able to see everything. You
aren't sure if he is picking a jury or running Gulf War II. He
has a full history on each potential juror along with his or
her vulnerable points. Two important considerations, that could
be credited to artistic license; are left out of the movie: (1)
the cost and legality of all of this is not determined, and (2)
the amount of time it takes to obtain all of the jury information
is not addressed. Hackman's character is a control freak running
everything and tells his clients, "Trials are too important
to be left to juries."
Unknown to either side, as the trial starts, one of the jurors,
played by John Cusack, and his girlfriend have their own scam.
Cusack claims he can swing the jury either way and his girlfriend
contacts both the plaintiff and defense to tell them that the
jury can go their way for ten million dollars. In some good scenes,
Cusack and the girlfriend demonstrate their control of the jury.
This film, unlike most legal films, does show scenes inside the
jury room, and only Twelve Angry Men has more jury scenes.
Again a little artistic license is taken, as it never becomes
clear how Cusack got on the jury (he is not even from the city
of the trial) or how he can swing the jury the way he wants.
There is a great scene in the courthouse men's room when Hackman
and Hoffman actually meet for the first time. It is the idealist
character v. the total agnostic character. But, even Hoffman's
character is not pristine pure. For a while Hoffman actually
considers paying the ten million, reasoning that this would be
better than losing this important case for gun control. The final
explanation at the end is a little weak, and there are some holes
in the plot that I pointed out, but it is good filmmaking and
I recommend it.
Posted October 29, 2003