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Runaway Jury

In the film version of John Grisham’s 1996 best seller, gun manufacturers are sued for liability after a shooting spree. Never mind that Grisham’s book took on tobacco, not guns. This is Hollywood, which is both the blessing and the curse of this enter- taining but skin-deep potboiler. The movie, shot on location in New Orleans, is as colorful as hell. But you start longing for a gray area. hile Elephant sees the complexity behind the issue of gun violence, Runaway Jury offers only a stacked deck. In this corner, Gene Hackman as Rankin Fitch, the killer jury consultant hired by uniformly creepy weapons hawks to make sure the verdict works in their favor. In the prosecution’s corner is Dustin Hoffman as Wendall Rohr, as unlikely a character as you’ll find these days: a lawyer with principles. Wendall may stain his tie to look like a good ol’ boy in court, but his heart is in the right place. It’s astounding to me that it took four screenwriters to craft roles for two of the best actors of their generation, and all they came up with is a dimension-free hero and a snarky villain. Still, Hackman and Hoffman, old pals in their first film together, make a lively business of their one scene together — in a toilet, no less.

he rest you can flush. Director Gary Fleder (Don’t Say a Word) fares best showing the technology used to choose, spy on and manipulate jurors. But the mystery involving juror Nick Easter (the always reliable John Cusack) and his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz; is there a throatier, sexier voice in movies?), comes off as just another propaganda trick. Runaway Jury doesn’t have the guts for a real debate. Too bad. It robs the film of something essential: a point.

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