Book adaptations are always a scary thing. After all, how can a movie do a book justice? It doesn't happen often, and Runaway Jury is no exception, though it is entertaining enough to suffice.
Runaway Jury is based on the John Grisham book of the same title (add 'The' to the beginning), which was originally about a couple trying to manipulate a jury in the biggest tobacco trial in history. Nick Easter, who is placed on the jury, slowly tries to pull his fellow members behind him, so, when his girlfriend and associate, Marlee, receives a payment of $10 million from either the plaintiff, Wendell Rohr, or the defendants, namely Rankin Fitch, he can manipulate the jury into voting for the highest bidder. Of course, there are other plots at play.
Whenever a movie is based on a book, comparisons have to be made. Of course, many comparisons aren't fair; a book has thousands of sentences to include detail, while a movie has two hours to explain everything visually - many things from the book are going to be lost, regardless of how accurate the screenplay is. And in my case, I haven't read the books that most movies are based on... But I did read "The Runaway Jury," and fairly recently, too. I made the mistake of reading the book before seeing the movie (though both the book and movie are assured to be more enjoyable if they are read/watched in the opposite order), so, that being said, some things might come off as being picky.
First off, the largest and most noticeable change is the fact that the movie is not based around the tobacco industry at all, but instead that of the gun industry. Surprisingly, I have little complaints about this, because not only is the gun industry more relevant now (many tobacco cases have been won in favor of the plaintiff since Grisham wrote his book), but it fits almost as well. After all, Runaway Jury is not about the legalities of the case as much as it is about the illegalities of those trying to influence the jury. Runaway Jury is not about the specific case, though if it was the gun industry is a perfect one to use. My personal bias is that the gun industry is reckless, and this movie is obviously anti-gun; those who feel passionately about what the 2nd Amendment supposedly says (even though it doesn't say what NRA members and other activists claim) may want to avoid this movie.
Basically, the switch from tobacco to guns is almost necessary for the movie to be relevant in this day and age, and it is fairly harmless. The biggest problems of the film lie more in director Gary Fleder's incapability to create a good legal thriller and a few other disappointments from a fan of the book.
The disappointments are minor ones, ones that will not be noticed by people who have not read the book recently. Grisham's book actually has a lot of comedy in it, as the lead character, Nick Easter, plays with the jury. One scene in particular, where he has all members of the jury stare at a female jury consultant until she is so "psyched out" that she has to leave the courtroom, is unfortunately not in the book. There are a few other funny moments that are either left out or shortened to the point where they make little sense. Much of this ties in with Felder's failure to successfully make this movie.
Runaway Jury is a pretty decent movie with an entertaining story, fun characters and the guarantee that most audience members will enjoy it. It is a relatively lighthearted thriller that is easy to like. Still, it could have been much, much better had someone else directed this movie. It is quite clear that Fleder does not know how to make a legal thriller, especially not one based on a book of the king of legal thrillers, John Grisham. Let me explain:
The book had little action in it; Nick Easter does not walk in on the "burglar" and Marlee is not attacked by an assassin, yet Fleder throws this scenes in to make the movie more exciting. Okay, directors do this all the time, right? Correct, but the story that Grisham made is exciting as it is, and has no need for "coloring." Basically, Fleder does not know how to make courtroom and dialogue scenes suspenseful. The courtroom scenes - actually, all the scenes - seem rushed; in fact, many of the scenes are literally rushed. Runaway Jury has many of moments where Fleder just slaps a bunch of three-second shots together, pastes some music on top to flavor things up, and titles it "Courtroom Drama." The movie flows unevenly at time and never really engages the audience as much it should. Though the focus of the story is the manipulation of the jury, the court trial is still important, and Fleder never really focuses on the trial.
Nevertheless, my only real complaint is with the ending. The big "twist" at the end is still intact in the movie, but Fleder does such a bad job of presenting it that I didn't even feel a twinge of suspense. Whether it be the music or the way the scenes are presented, the ending just doesn't have the punch that the movie needs and should have had. Worse, the follow-up developments (involving Marlee's playing of the stock market in the big) are completely changed to a single cheesy and sentimental scene that is just absurdly dull.
Obviously, much of these complaints would not come from someone who has not read or who has not recently read Grisham's book; even with the complaints, I enjoyed Runaway Jury and would recommend it for a harmless ride. The movie has a lot going for it, including one of the best casts assembled this year: John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. All four stars do a terrific job.
Runaway Jury is a good and mildly effective film, but had someone more adept at making thrillers directed this movie, it could have been one of the best movies of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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