The jury system was introduced to ensure that bias is left out of court decisions and that a democratic verdict is found, rather than leaving it to the whims and prejudices of a single judge. Runaway Jury does its level best to topple this idealistic notion, and insists that even under the current system, a verdict can be ˜bought’ as easily as buying a cup of coffee.
The case itself revolves around an office shooting by a disgruntled former employee. The gunman kills a number of former colleagues, – including the plaintiff’s husband, – before turning the gun on himself. Two years later, a widow of one of the deceased the takes the gun company to court for irresponsible distribution of semi-automatic weapons.
But all that is window dressing. The film suggests that the real case is going out of the court room, as both sides battle to get their ideal candidates on the jury and the defence reverts to less than legal measures. The man pulling the strings behind the gun goliath’s defence is Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), a man with so little conscience that we believe him when he says, ˜I just don’t care.’
Fitch finds himself the victim of his own game however, when Nicholas Easter (John Cusack) gets himself on the jury and starts swaying things to his own advantage. With the help of his contact on the outside Marlee (Rachel Weisz), he makes both the prosecution and the defence an offer “ promising to swing the verdict either way for the right price.
Although the film is slightly on the far-fetched side (as most Hollywood films are), the way the actual case is almost completely side-lined by jury manipulation is a poignant reminder of the often crippling bureaucracy of the legal system. The real issue here is not whether or gun companies should or shouldn’t care about who they sell their guns to, – is it none of their business or ˜just not their problem’? – although this is an interesting debate to be sure. The real court case is justice versus the legal system, and what the lawyers will and won’t do to secure the outcomes they want.
Runaway Jury hits all the right spots as a twisty-turny legal thriller which follows a large cast of characters as they make their way through a morally ambiguous playing field. It is also interesting to watch a film where the truth about the apparent lead characters is kept in the dark. The film leads us one way and then another about whether or not Nicholas and Marlee are purely in it for the money or have other motivations. Runaway Jury’s best play is holding its cards close to its chest – keeping you guessing until the film’s final frames.