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Movie Review:

"Runaway Jury"

OK, I'll admit it:

I nodded off a few times during the first hour of this film, which runs a bit over two hours. Not because the movie was bad, mind you, but because I have a tendency to not get enough sleep, and I guess I haven't caught up enough the last week, even being off work.

The good news is, I read John Grisham's novel on which this movie is based, and so I didn't really miss any of the story, so you can go ahead and read this review!

This one's very similar in tone to the way the other Grisham novels have been brought to the big screen, with an all-star cast (John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Rachel Weisz, among others); in that sense it reminded me a bit of "The Pelican Brief", which starred an up-and-coming Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and was also set in New Orleans.

Grisham's from the South and so sets his novels primarily in Southern cities, and New Orleans, with its French Quarter characters and settings, serves as a great backdrop to the story. Its characters -- Hoffman's attorney for the plaintiff, who is suing a gun manufacturer for making the gun that a disgruntled employee used to shoot up a workplace and murder her husband; Cusack's seemingly feckless video-game player and his girlfriend, played by Weisz; and especially Gene Hackman's jury consultant character, who seems to ooze evil, seem ready-made for both the dark nights and colorful days of New Orleans. I love the characters that Hackman has played recently -- he's a great "heavy", and even at age 73 seems at the top of his game.

There are the usual plot twists, and we don't find out what this trial is truly all about till the very end, when it's revealed that the Cusack and Weisz characters are not what they seem to be. I won't ruin this film by telling you about it, but I suspect many people who are going to see this have already read the novel, and I'll tell you that even knowing that, if you have read it, won't ruin the film for you.

I didn't find this so much in the novel, but the screenplay also makes an elegant statement for gun control, in both the way Dustin Hoffman makes a closing argument, and in the way some of the jury members are portrayed. It does so without being heavy-handed (the way "The Life of David Gale", which came out earlier this year, did), and you can enjoy the film both for the plot twists and for this; it works on both levels. In addition, there are often films which portray TV news crews covering trials in unrealistic ways; this one shows them in very real settings without overdoing it.

It's a good whodunit with some good performances by very big stars, who don't hit you over the head with who they are; they are the characters, and that's not always easy.

AYRating: ***