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Runaway Jury

Runaway Jury
Opens

October 17


Like a juicy steak served to a man suffering on a diet of micro-greens and tofu, Runaway Jury will be devoured by fans of movie melodramas. Once a staple of the studios, the melodrama has been largely abandoned in favor of action, special effects and sensationalism. But Runaway Jury, directed by Gary Fleder, might just revive the cinema where intense, strong personalities clash in mortal conflict, where much is at stake and wild plot twists and turns fuel the rising tension.

There are 75 speaking roles here, yet at the movie's core are stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz and Bruce Davison -- all of whom clearly relish such red-blooded, morally ambivalent roles. This crowd-pleaser from Fox should not only become a runaway hit but might restore the melodrama as an American movie genre.

In past movies about the law -- including those based on legal thrillers by lawyer-author John Grisham, whose 1996 best seller is the basis for this movie -- stories have focused on courtroom theatrics or a murder mystery or the relationship between lawyers and clients or even, in the memorable Twelve Angry Men, on the jury itself. Runaway Jury manages all this and more. The screenplay is credited to four writers, normally a signal of a misshapen mess, but what emerges here is taut storytelling where character leads to action and action leads back to character.

In the legal profession there exist people called "jury consultants," who bone up on enough psychology to advise trial attorneys on jury selection. Grisham takes this several steps further to imagine a ruthless superdetective, an amoral rascal named Rankin Fitch (Hackman), who, backed by an army of high-tech personnel, burrows into the private lives of the jury pool not only to divine which potential jurors are most likely to vote in favor of a client, but to dig up enough dirt -- if push comes to shove -- to guarantee a verdict. As Fitch puts it in his signature line: "A trial is too important to be left up to juries."

Having established a lucrative business defending gun manufacturers in lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence around the country, Fitch runs into an unforeseen opponent in a New Orleans civil suit brought against a powerful gun consortium. One juror, Nick Easter (Cusack), contacts him through a mysterious woman who calls herself Marlee (Weisz) to declare that he controls the jury and it's for sale. Not only that, he contacts the plaintiff's attorney, chivalrous Southern attorney Wendall Rohr (Hoffman), with the same proposal. The price is $10 million.

Who can claim the moral high ground in the game of cat and mouse that ensues is not initially clear. Nor are the individual motives obvious. Fitch needs proof of Nick's ability to "control" the jury. And, boy, does he gets it. But Fitch plays hardball, demonstrating that he is not above blackmail and intimidation of Nick's fellow jurors. Meanwhile, Wendall struggles with his conscience. He believes sincerely in his case, and even a mistrial would not serve his purpose. So perhaps his ethics are flexible enough to pony up.

Thus, the movie runs off in several directions. Nick must carefully worm his way into his fellow jurors' confidence while eliminating or neutralizing those not on his side. A Fitch operative heads for Ohio to investigate the background of this mystifying juror. The no-nonsense Judge Harkin (Bruce McGill) tries to get to the bottom of this strange jury. Wendall and defense counsel Durwood Cable (Davison) do battle in emotional courtroom scenes, while Marlee and Fitch circle one another, each looking for ways to gain the advantage over the other. The climax, a strong piece of writing, editing and direction, brings all the plotlines to a head.

There is even time for a bathroom confrontation between screen legends Hackman and Hoffman -- their first onscreen pairing -- that ranks alongside Al Pacino and Robert De Niro's encounter in Heat.

Robert Elswit's nervous camera and realistic lighting of the French Quarter, Fitch's dark "war room" and the mahogany-trimmed courtroom contribute to the overheated atmosphere. Even Abigail Murray's costumes take on importance as everyone carefully selects just the right suit of armor to enter and play a role in the legal arena.

RUNAWAY JURY

20th Century Fox

Regency Enterprises presents a New Regency production

Credits: Director: Gary Fleder

Screenwriters: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman

Based on the novel by: John Grisham

Producers: Arnon Milchan, Gary Fleder, Christopher Mankiewicz

Executive producer: Jeffrey Downer

Director of photography: Robert Elswit

Production designer: Nelson Coates

Music: Christopher Young

Costume designer: Abigail Murray

Editor: William Steinkamp

Cast:

Nick Easter: John Cusack

Rankin Fitch: Gene Hackman

Wendall Rohr: Dustin Hoffman

Marlee: Rachel Weisz

Cable: Bruce Davison

Judge Harkin: Bruce McGill

Lawrence Green: Jeremy Piven

Running time -- 127 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

Film Review: 'Kiss the Girls'

Film Review: 'Kiss the Girls'
Based on the nail-biter best seller of the same name by James Patterson, "Kiss the Girls" is a perfectly workable psychological thriller, elevated above its standard-issue trappings by slick production values and strong performances from leads Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.

Centering on a police detective's efforts to track down a serial kidnapper-killer, the picture keeps graphic sensationalism to an admirable minimum but ultimately lacks the compelling lure of a "Seven" (not to mention a Brad Pitt on the marquee) and, as a result, will likely translate into moderate rather than killer business.

The always-effective Freeman once again applies his inimitable brand of quiet compassion to the role of Dr. Alex Cross, a Washington forensic psychologist who ventures out of his jurisdiction when his niece turns up missing during what appears to be a series of related kidnappings.

While his presence in Durham, N.C., draws begrudging cooperation from the locals (Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur) working the investigation, Cross gets some valuable assistance from Kate McTiernan (Judd), a strong-willed doctor, who, for reasons left respectfully unexplained here, is able to provide insights into the case.

Together, they chase down the clues that will hopefully lead them to their psycho Casanova before he strikes again, but not before the film's obligatory twists and turns render further plot description impractical.

Suffice it to say that the big surprise ending, as adapted by screenwriter David Klass, isn't really all that much of a surprise, nor is the picture as a whole quite the involving shocker it aspires to be.

The cast is certainly up to the challenge. Freeman's committed honesty makes his character's motivations crystal clear; while Judd, as the kickboxing physician, combines determination and vulnerability to convincing effect. The role is one of her strongest.

Director Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead") puts a strong stylistic imprint on the production. Occasionally, however, the artistic flourishes create more distraction than enhancement.

Elsewhere, Aaron Schneider's cinematography is solid, William Anderson's editing is taut and composer Mark Isham's densely atmospheric score is perfectly suited to the on-screen mood.

Production designer Nelson Coates and costume designer Abigail Murray collaborate on a gothic kind of Marquis de Sade-meets-Victoria's Secret look for the kidnapper's lair that borders on the unintentionally ridiculous.

KISS THE GIRLS

Paramount Pictures

in association with Rysher Entertainment

Director Gary Fleder

Producers David Brown and Joe Wizan

Screenwriter David Klass

Based on the novel by James B. Patterson

Executive producer C.O. Erickson

Director of photography Aaron Schneider

Production designer Nelson Coates

Editor William Anderson

Costume designer Abigail Murray

Music Mark Isham

Color/stereo

Cast:

Alex Cross Morgan Freeman

Kate McTiernan Ashley Judd

Chief Hatfield Brian Cox

Wick Sachs William Converse-Roberts

Nick Ruskin Cary Elwes

Dr. Will Rudolph Tony Goldwyn

Seth Samuel Richard T. Jones

Davey Sikes Alex McArthur

Running time -- 117 minutes

MPAA rating: R

See also

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