3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
John Grisham’s “Runaway Jury” powerfully portrays the importance of protecting the integrity of our jury system. Although rare in our American court system, the possibility of unscrupulous people tampering with a jury is the fear of every person who takes their case to court. We all ask ourselves, “How do we know the persons involved, either behind the scenes or in the jury room, do not have other agendas than that of justice?”
Directed by Gary Fleder, the story which answers this question is set in New Orleans. The case involves a suit against a gun manufacturer who makes a semiautomatic weapon that was used by a disgruntled day-trader who entered a brokerage firm and killed his coworkers. One of those killed was a young father named Jacob Wood (Dylan McDermott). Two years later Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) has brought suit on behalf of Wood’s widow and young son.
Although this is not the first time the gun manufacturers have been sued, they realize that their two billion dollar industry will be destroyed if they are found liable. Every misuse of a gun could open them up to product liability suits. The major manufacturers come together and decide “trials are too important to be decided by juries.” They once again hire a jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), who not only advises on jury selection but also intervenes to assure them of a verdict. They agree to pay him $27 million to “deliver the jury.”
Creating a team of investigators who use private information to not only decide who should be a juror but also to pressure their decision, Fitch demonstrates himself to be a person lacking any moral compass or human compassion. Opposite to the idealism of Rohr who wants to stop the gun violence caused by these weapons sold with “finger-print proof finishes”, Fitch is impervious to Rohr’s observation that he is losing his soul through his deeds.
Into this struggle comes a couple with an agenda we don’t at first understand. It is the agenda that turns the film inside out. Although we won’t reveal the nature of what motivates them to be involved, they are able to infiltrate the jury. Nicholas Easter (John Cusack) appears to be an unmotivated class clown who wants to avoid jury duty. But he is not. Nicholas is accompanied by his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), a fearless woman whose agenda places her deep within harm’s way. Through intelligent planning, skillful maneuvering and fearless interactions, Nicholas and Marlee face their monster within his own lair.
The trust we have in our jury system is only as valid as the people with whom we entrust its care. To believe this could never happen in America is to naively open the door to injustice that undermines our entire system of law and justice.
- When Fitch secretly films the jurors and uncovers their secrets he is going far beyond the usual activities of a jury consultant. Do you believe this happens today? How can we protect ourselves from such manipulative intrusions?
- The gun manufacturers within the film are seen as greedy, soulless, merciless opportunists who care nothing for the people killed by their products. Do you agree with this assessment? Where did you get your information?
- Have you ever been in court and felt that someone tampered with the jury? What made you think this? What did you do to check out your intuition? How can we protect ourselves and our nation in this important area of having twelve peers hear a case and decide justice?
- When Wendell Rohr decided to not pay for the verdict to go his way, what do you think would have happened if he had? Would Marlee and Nicholas have kept the money?
- Do you believe Marlee and Nicholas are safe now after having destroyed a monster like Fitch?