Sunday, January 27, 2013

Runaway Jury (2003)

Directed by Gary Fleder (1)

Cast: John Cusack (2), Gene Hackman (3), Dustin Hoffman (4), Rachel Weisz (5), Jeremy Piven (6), Marguerite Moreau (7), Dylan McDermott (8), Bruce McGill (9), and Cliff Curtis (10)

(Watch the trailer)

My favourite quote - "I didn't swing anybody. I just stopped you from stealing the thing. I let them vote with their hearts."

Did You Know? - This film is an adaptation of John Grisham's book The Runaway Jury. It is his 7th novel and the 9th book adapted into a film. Other films based on his books include The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Client (1994), A Time To Kill (1996), The Chamber (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), The Gingerbread Man (1998), A Painted House (2001), Christmas With The Kranks (2004), and The Last Juror (2013). The Client and The Firm have also been adapted into television series. The film is about the gun industry while the book is about the tobacco industry.

I don't claim to know much or anything at all about American laws or the constitution. Jury duty is something that is very alien to me. I am a Singaporean, and in Singapore, we don't have jury trials anymore, not since it was abolished in 1969. So my feelings about the film Runaway Jury are based purely on what little I do know and what I understand of the jury system through films. 

Runaway Jury is an awesome film. It's thrilling, it's got an interesting concept, the entire cast did an outstanding job, but what I love about it is that it's got a lot of heart. I know the outcome of the film because I've watched it many many times. But I still love watching the film over and over again. Why? Because it's well written. 

A good film is timeless. Whether you're watching it for the first time or watching it for the nth time, a good film will keep you engaged and invested in the characters and the plot. Runaway Jury seems to be a film is about gun massacres and gun control. But it is more than that, I think it is also about jury duty, about law, and the human condition. 

First, let's talk about character set ups in the opening minutes of the film. 

Nick: You know what it is? Jury duty. Got the summons in the mail. Just trying to pray my way out of it.

Marlee: Where's your sense of civic duty.
Nick: Err... I flunk civics.

This sets up the premise of the film right off the bat. Nick comes across as a normal citizen whose problem is that he wants to get out of jury duty. And he uses humour to connect with people. But that is all we know about him. Which is quite apt because later we realise that there is more to him that you think. And well, Marlee is definitely all about mystery and intrigues. She is the character that makes you wonder if she's one of the key players or just a passing character, but that is what makes us watch on. 

Rankin: How's your mother?

Taxi Driver: Excuse me?
Rankin: She feeling better?
Taxi Driver: How you know about my mother?
Rankin: She was in the hospital, but now you're taking care of her at home. 
Taxi Driver: She had a stroke.
Rankin: Your wife wants you to put her in a home but you're feeling guilty about that. You checked out a few of them and it doesn't feel like the Christian thing to do. My advice, reconsider the home. Better an unhappy mother than an unfriendly wife. 

Rankin knows how to read people. That is well established in the exchange he has with the taxi driver. His ability to put two and two together from a person's belongings really remind me of Simon Baker's Jane Patrick in the television series The Mentalist. And later in the film, we see the way he's able to read people from the way they act and talk makes me think of Tim Roth's Dr Cal Lightman from the series Lie To Me. And from his advice, we can tell he has a very practical view of the world and the relationships people have. Right off the bat, we have this feeling that he's bad news.   

Wendall: I got 35 years experience in courtrooms and my instincts for picking juries have served me quite nicely so far... I want to thank you for your time. 

Lawrence: Mr Rohr, I flew down here on my own dime.
Wendall: Why?
Lawrence: Because I, I... Because I believe in this case.
Wendall: Why?
Lawrence: I believe in a world without guns.
Wendall: That's very sweet but a little naive. (Lawrence walks away) 30%
Lawrence: Sorry. Excuse me?
Wendall: 30% of your usual fee. You're hired. Strictly probationary status. 
Lawrence: You didn't want to check out my resume? 
Wendall: Already did. It's impressive.

Now this not the very first thing Wendall says but I can't quote every single line. They're all good! And writing it all down here for you would just take the fun out of watching these fantastic actors breathe life into Runaway Jury's awesome script. So what can we tell about Wendall from the dialogue above as well as the first few minutes of the film? He's an organised mess. He comes off as messy and unpredictable, but his heart is in the right place. He goes with his gut feeling and he's not afraid to be stand up for what he believes in. He is a good mix of practicality and idealism. 

Now we know our main characters, let's think about something Rankin says early in the film, "Trials are too important to be left up to juries." Rankin doesn't have a positive view of the jury system and for jurors. "You think your average juror is King Solomon? No, he's a roofer with a mortgage. He wants to go home and sit in his Barcalounger and let the cable TV wash over him. And this man doesn't give a single, solitary droplet of shit about truth, justice or your American way." Do you agree with him? Do you think that's true?

We know what Rankin thinks about juries, let's take a look at what the judge says. "The jury system was originated, Mr Easter, because for thousands of years before that, an individual judge had the power to hang, for example, anyone young man he simply did not like." Hmm, since he put it that way, I think I'm leaning towards the idea of having a jury system. 

Now this conflict of ideals pretty much sums up the problem addressed in the film. Does the average American care that their vote has a direct impact on another person's life? Let's talk specifically about America because Runaway Jury is set in America. I am not living in America so I don't have an answer to that question. But if you're an American citizen, do share your thoughts with us and pardon my ignorance of your judicial system. 

The concept that a jury can be bought and that one man can influence the outcome of a verdict is explored in the film. And it's a very interesting idea. A very scary thought of course, but still very compelling idea. Is the film realistic? I'm not so sure if it is. But still the idea and exploration of that idea makes an exciting film.

This is my favourite scene in the film. Although Runaway Jury is about the law and there are plenty of courtroom scenes, I think the following scene was the most exciting and powerful "courtroom" argument of the film. And this scene sums up the gist of the film very nicely. 

Frank: She doesn't deserve that money.
Nick: Well maybe she does, maybe she doesn't. But she deserves a few hours of our time.
Frank: Can we vote please?
Everyone: Yes. Yeah.
Millie: Ya, I'd like to vote.
Nick: Tell me why! Tell me why!
Frank: I want to vote anyone, anybody else what to vote? Come on I want to vote. 
Nick: Tell me why! Tell me why!
Frank: Well I want to vote, does anybody else want to vote?
Nick: Tell me why!
Lonnie: Let's vote.
Nick: How does it work Frank?
Lonnie: Pipe down Easter.
Nick: Tell me why!
Frank: We all got problems here don't we? All of us. But we don't get paid for it.
Nick: She suffered.
Frank: Hell I suffered. I worked my ass off 12 years of crummy jobs for shit pay, I have never asked anybody for a handout. 
Nick: She's not asking for a handout.
Frank: That is bullshit and you know it. 
Mrs. Brandt: She was with Jeff, it's Gabby's boyfriend. He kept telling me that my girl, she froze, she just stood there. It took seconds. Jeff just kept saying 'I couldn't reach her. I couldn't pull her down'. He always thought there was something that he could have done.
Nick: So what are we going to tell Celeste Wood? 
Frank: I don't know. I don't know what we're going to tell her. It's just that I'm not going to sit around...
Nick: Life isn't fair, we write that on a postcard, is that the best we've got?
Frank: I tell you what else, that lawyer can show me all the home movies he wants, I deserve a hell of a lot more for what I've been through than that woman out there. I mean forget her.
Nick: What about the law?
Frank: F**k the law. I don't care if the gun company gave that guy an M16 with his morning donut. I'm not giving her a cent.
Jerry: That's bullshit Frank. Bullshit.
Nick: Who's with Frank? (Marlee reports a robbery to the police) Maybe some of you are afraid or intimidated. Maybe some of you are just out for yourselves. Frank is right about me. I'm the worst offender here. I made up my mind about this case before I stepped through that door. But this trial is not about me, it's not about you. Hell, we owe it to Celeste Wood to sit in this room and deliberate the facts of the case, for as long as it takes. Now if you don't mind there's some testimony I'd like to review.

We must remember that in a trial, the most important thing to do is to listen and follow your heart. Look at all the facts, then ask yourself, what does your conscience say?

Nick: I was watching a lot of people very closely during the jury selection, and only this man, I don't know your name Sir, what is your name?
Herman: Herman Grimes.
Nick: Only Mr Grimes...
Herman: No, just Herman.
Nick: Only Herman had the guts to stand up to the judge and only Herman seems to know a little something about the law. So in my book, you know, I think it'll be a good idea for him to represent us.
Frank: But, but he's...
Edward: But he's blind man... So what? So is justice right?
Nick: What do you think Herman? You up to it? 
Herman: Well, of course I am.
Nick: All in favour of Herman? (Everyone raises their hands)
Herman: Did I get any votes?
Nick: Hey it's unanimous, you're in.

The above exchange is also one of my favourite scenes in the film. Why? Because of this line "But he's blind man, so what? So is justice right?". This is a scene from the first half of the film and its a hint of what's to come when Nick and Marlee put their plan into motion. This scene also shows how good Nick is at controlling the situation and reading people. As I watched this scene unfold in the film, I felt as if I was watching Nick make a very important move on the chess board although it is a seemingly innocent act. He just pushed his pawn into the middle of the board and he's setting it up so that he controls the very important centre square of the board. I didn't get all this the first time I watched the film of course.

Runaway Jury is also about the human condition. What motivates you? Why do you say or do the things that you do? Greed? Money? Passion? Moral Code? A sense of right and wrong? We are only human and "everybody's got a button, (you) just got to find out where and push", after all "everybody has a secret they don't want you to find."

There are both pros and cons to having the jury system. And it really depends on whether you are an optimist and believe that people will do the right thing and not be swayed by outside influences when the outcome of a man's life lies in your hands.

Rankin: How did you swing them huh? How did you swing them you way? I hear you've got 10 votes.

Nick: I didn't swing anybody. I just stopped you from stealing the thing. I let them vote with their hearts. That means you lose. 

Now let's talk about the big white elephant in the "room". Guns and the 2nd amendment. In Singapore, although you can register to own a gun only for sports shooting and for self protection it is not the norm for people to own or carry a weapon. So I personally don't see the need for a gun. The only weapon I have is my recurve bow and arrow. And that doesn't cause damage as quickly as rifles or semi-automatic weapons do. Unless you're taking about a crossbow, but even that doesn't reload as fast.

"All Jacob Wood and those 10 other people did, all they did wrong on that Monday morning was to go to work. And there's gonna be another shooting and another shooting, and it's not gonna let up, until we demand a change. You heard Mr Garland Jankle, the chief CEO of Vicksburg Firearms sit in that chair and say to you that what we do with his guns is not his problem, and he's right. You can make it his problem with your verdict. You may for the first time, make gun violence, the gun industry's problem. If you do, you are going to see fewer senseless deaths, like my client's husband, Jacob Woods."

In December last year, 26 people were killed in a gun massacre in Connecticut. 20 of them were children, all aged 6 or 7. And the shooter was just 20 years old. In 2007, 32 people were killed and 17 wounded during the shooting at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The heated debate about the second amendment and whether there should be tighter laws about gun ownership has been an ongoing one. 

In 1994, an assault weapon ban was passed under President Bill Clinton. The ban expired in 2004 and until today it was never resurrected. But in recent news, it was reported that Senator Dianne Feinstein is proposing a new federal ban on some assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. 

Will stricter laws really help decrease the number of gun massacres in the US? In the 10 years when the assault weapon ban was in place, there were 2 gun massacres, one in 1998 and another in 1999. A total of 18 people were killed and 35 were wounded. And in the 9 years since the ban lapsed, there have been 8 shootings with mass casualties. In just 9 years, more than 100 people have been killed in such shootings! Why is there such an increase? Is it because guns are more easily obtained? Or that people are becoming more violent? It could be a mix of both. Maybe the law should be reintroduced just to see if it does have an effect on the number of gun massacres. After all, a theory is just that until you test it out. 

Yes, I agree that if someone was hell bent of killing or causing mass destruction, using a gun is not the only way to do that. But this is how I see it, in order to cause mass destruction through the use of a bomb, you need to know how to create a bomb, get the various parts you need to make one, this could be easy or difficult depending on the complexity of the bomb you want to make, and not kill yourself first when trying to make the bomb. It's not difficult I guess, but its not something that's very easy to do. And if you use a knife or sharp object, you can still cause a lot of damage, but its a hell of a lot messier and slower too. And if it takes more time to do the deed, maybe people will notice earlier and stop the killer before he does more damage. 

I don't live in the US. So it's hard for me to fully understand the pros and cons of the right to own a firearm. Would it be really catastrophic to tighten the laws on who is allowed to own a gun? Maybe if I lived in the US I would feel the need to own a gun. But I don't live there so I'm going to focus on how I personally feel about guns instead. 

I am a klutz. I can trip over my own two feet while standing still. If I owned a gun, I would be the type to accidentally shoot my foot or worse, kill myself just holding the gun. So I think I'm better off not owning a gun. I have held a real gun before. It was loaded with blanks and it was for a police drama I was working on. And it was exciting and fun to hold a real gun for the first time. But truth be told, I'm not sure if I have the guts to shoot a gun. In the event where a gun would be useful to have in self defense, I might be the sort to close my eyes and pull the trigger without taking an aim first. Then I'd end up either being shot dead by the shooter or end up accidentally hurting an innocent bystander. 

That being said, I probably wouldn't want to own a gun. But ask me again if I ever become a US citizen. I might have a change of heart?

And in regards to the acting and the casting for Runaway Jury. Just watch it. The casting director did a superb job and each actor gives an excellent performance in the film. You really shouldn't miss it. 

(1) Gary Fleder has directed films like The Express (2008) and Homefront (2014).

(2) John Cusack has acted in films
like Sixteen Candles (1984), Say Anything... (1989), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Con Air (1997), The Thin Red Line (1998), Pushing Tin (1999), Being John Malkovich (1999), High Fidelity (2000), America's Sweethearts (2001), Serendipity (2001), Must Love Dogs (2005), 1408 (2007), 2012 (2009), Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), and The Paperboy (2012). 

(3) Gene Hackman has acted in films like Bonny and Clyde (1967), The French Connection (1971), Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), The Firm (1993), Get Shorty (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Twilight (1998), Enemy Of The State (1998), The Replacements (2000), Heartbreakers (2001), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and Behind Enemy Lines (2001).

(4) Dustin Hoffman has acted in films like The Graduate (1967), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Tootsie (1982), Death Of A Salesman (1985), Rain Man (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991), Outbreak (1995), Finding Neverland (2004), I Heart Huckabees (2004), Meet The Fockers (2004), Stranger Than Fiction (2008), Mr. Magorium's Wonderful Emporium (2007), Last Chance Harvey (2009), and Little Fockers (2010). He has also voiced characters in animations like Racing Stripes (2005), Kung Fu Panda (2008), Horton Hears A Who! (2008), The Tale Of Despereaux (2008), and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011). 

(5) Rachel Weisz has acted in films like Stealing Beauty (1996), The Mummy (1999), Sunshine (1999), Enemy At The Gates (2001), The Mummy Returns (2001), About A Boy (2002), Constantine (2005), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Fountain (2006), Fred Claus (2007), My Blueberry Nights (2007), Definitely, Maybe (2008), The Brothers Bloom (2008), The Lovely Bones (2009), Agora (2009), The Whistleblower (2010), 360 (2011), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and Oz: The Great And Powerful (2013). She also voiced the character of Saphira the dragon in the film Eragon (2006). 

(6) Jeremy Piven has acted in films like Say Anything... (1989), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), The Family Man (2000), Serendipity (2001), Rush Hour 2 (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), Scary Movie 3 (2003), Chasing Liberty (2004), Two For The Money (2005), Smokin' Aces (2006), The Kingdom (2007), RocknRolla (2008), Spy Kids: All The Time In The World (2011), and So Undercover (2012). He also voice the character of Harv in the animation Cars (2006). He also played the role of Spence Kovak in the television series Ellen (1995-1998) and the role of Ari Gold in the series Entourage (2004-2011). He also guest starred in television series like Seinfield, Chicago Hope, Will & Grace, and The Twilight Zone.

(7) Marguerite Moreau has acted in films like The Mighty Ducks (1992), D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994), D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996), and Queen Of The Damned (2002). She also played  Monica Young in the television series Life As We Know It (2004-2005) and guest starred in television series like The Wonder Years, Boys Meets World, The Secret World Of Alex Mack, Blossom, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Smallville, The O.C., Lost, Ghost Whisperer, Mad Men, Monk, CSI: NY, Private Practice, Brothers & Sisters, and Parenthood.

(8) Dylan McDermott has acted in films like Steel Madnolias (1989), In The Line Of Fire (1993), Miracle On 34th Street (1994), Three To Tango (1999), The Mistress Of Spices (2005), The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012), The Campaign (2012), Olympus Has Fallen (2013), and Behaving Badly (2013). He is well known for playing the role of Bobby Donnell in the television series The Practice (1997-2004). He also played Ben Harmon in American Horror Story and  guest starred in television series like Ally McBeal, Will & Grace, and American Horror Story: Asylum. 

(9) Bruce McGill has acted in films like Courage Under Fire (1996), The Legend Of Bagger Vance (2000), Shallow Hal (2001), Ali (2001), The Sum Of All Fears (2002), Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), Matchstick Men (2003), Collateral (2004), Cinderella Man (2005), Elizabethtown (2005), Vantage Point (2008), W. (2008), Imagine That (2009), and Lincoln (2012).

(10) Cliff Curtis has acted in films like The Piano (1993), Blow (2001), Training Day (2001), Collateral Damage (2002), The Fountain (2006), Live Free Or Die Hard (2007), 10,000 BC (2008), Push (2009), Crossing Over (2009), The Last Airbender (2010), and Colombiana (2011).

The Eclectic Reviewer thinks... Runaway Jury is one of those films that I will never get tired of watching. Every time I watch it, I find myself noticing something different that adds to my understanding of the entire film. Whatever your take is on the right to bear arms, this film is an exciting legal thriller that will entertain and make you think about the price of a life and a verdict. (5 of 5)

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