It has been several years since a John Grisham film was released and since the last movie, Gingerbread Man (1998), considerably under whelmed at the box office; many people wondered if a new John Grisham movie would ever come about. When I first heard of the film, I figured that the audiences would stay away since the market for political and investigative thrillers has been so completely saturated the last few years by network television fare such as Law and Order and CSI. In fact, my friend had to mention the film to me on at least three separate occasions to convince me to go. So I went, more under the influence of guilt, than any actual excitement for the film.
The first bad sign for this movie was when I used my AMC 24 movie card at the box office and didn’t get anything free. The second was when there was an “explosive” office murder sequence followed by a “three years later” heading on the screen to setup the movie. I thought only Matlock episodes did that sort of thing in the “crime drama” setting.
All right, enough grousing, let’s talk about the rest of the movie. In the next five minutes following the three years later opening, we are introduced to the main characters that we will be ruminating over for the duration of the film. Also introduced is what the film is about exactly. Despite the title of the film, it is not about a jury that has fled the courtroom setting because they didn’t want to “rat out” anyone. It is also not advice for the jury to leave. I believe after some thinking that it is about how the jury process has run amok in America’s high profile legal battles. Yes, I’m sure that’s basically what it is about.
So before I rip this movie to shreds, let me give you a basic rundown of the story and how the main characters fit into the whole thing.
As I said before, at the beginning of the movie there is a murder in an office. A madman starts shooting and the main character onscreen (Jeremy Piven I think) ducks into his office with his secretary before getting killed. This whole part is one of those classic “Don’t OPEN THAT DOOR!” kind of scenes, and I thought it was too over the top, a little unrealistic, and quick for a political thriller to open with.
Okay, so 3 years later the dead man’s wife hires a brilliant and honest lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) to sue the gun manufacturers of the gun that shot her husband. The gun manufacturers in turn hire the best sneaky lawyer money can buy (Gene Hackman) to ensure that the court proceedings go their way. Hackman and his legal team don’t disappoint, as they quickly setup a sort of base camp nearby loaded with video equipment and computers to be used for the purpose of communicating with their representative inside the courtroom who has a listening device inside his ear. Hackman sets about eliminating potential jurors that he feels wouldn’t be so kind to his side of the story. All goes according to plan until a jury member (John Cusack) with his own agenda and an outside agent (Rachel Weisz) begin eliminating other jury members and gaining their trust in order to sway them to whichever side (Hackman or Hoffman) forks over ten million dollars.
So that’s the plot line there. A whole lot of really intriguing backdoor maneuverings go on so often in this picture that you really have to be paying close attention to follow it all. I thought the dialogue felt a little bit stilted and forced in the first twenty minutes, indicating to me that the whole “setup” part of the story was the movie maker’s least favorite task. They wanted to hurry up and get to the good stuff. Fortunately, the good stuff is great stuff. Oh man, this movie had me rolling after a while. The characters are so sharply drawn over their battle lines, and each side fights so viciously that its intensely fun to watch.
Cusack is sneaky, Hackman is just plain mean, Weisz is beautiful, smart, and deadly, and Hoffman is an honest principled lawyer. Put them all together and you have a dynamo of a film.