Its almost as if Gene Hackman is a returning guest star on the television show, The Law and John Grisham. And this particular episode has Dustin Hoffman, too, another fine actor, making his first appearance in the courtroom drama series that airs weekly on NBC. But wait, isnt that John Cusack there in the cast? And look, thats Rachel Weisz. Wait a minute!
The Law and John Grisham isnt a dramatic TV series, its a feature-length movie that just seems like a dramatic TV series. Oh boy, the seemingly constant broadcasting of all those hour-long NBC crime/cop & courtroom dramas on so many channels is affecting the movie business more than I thought.
If I hadnt been in a shopping mall cineplex the other night attending a screening of this movie, I wouldve sworn I was vegged-out in my easy chair at home with the local NBC affiliate on watching this weeks episode of The Law and John Grisham, which really isnt what its called at all. The title is, to be honest, the same one John Grisham gave his book, Runaway Jury.
Now, that doesnt mean the film isnt well done for what it is. But, after seeing Clint Eastwood nailing it with his new film, Mystic River just the night before, I have to say that Runaway Jury, is merely pretty good television. And, if you havent noticed lately, that kind of TV is really damned good and so hard to find.
The fact that four---count em---four men are credited with the screenplay for this Grisham novel telegraphs what to expect of the script. Since theres already been a movie about the bad tobacco companies (The Insider), this committee of four screenwriters has changed Grishams novel about jury tampering in a court case that involves bad tobacco sellers into one that involves bad gun sellers. And, what with Michael Moores success with Bowling for Columbine, thats probably the smartest thing thats been done writing this screenplay. There are a couple of reasons for that.
Hackman is Rankin Fitch, who, from a mile away, can spot a potential juror thats ripe for blackmailing. During jury selection, Fitch, with his gun dealer defense team, is sequestered in a warehouse/laboratory filled with technological gear, observing the court room from afar. Fitch barks commands to a hidden ear piece worn by the lead attorney on site with the jury. This is actually more like ABC than NBC. Just think of Alias Jennifer Garner, in a tight spot in some cold and anonymous Eastern European enclave, being given orders, via satellite, by her CIA mentor half a world away in balmy L.A.
Dustin Hoffman, as Wendall Rohr, is the good attorney for the good plaintiff. Hes trying to get a hefty settlement for a young widow whose husband (played by Dylan McDermott) was shot to death at the office by an irate former employee armed with a high-powered assault weapon. Besides a big settlement, if Rohr wins the case, he figures getting such weapons off the street stands a better chance. Hoffmans idealistic character very much wants that to happen while Hackmans character doesnt, as he says in the film, give a s---!
Now, to the two reasons why I think its a good thing that this story was changed from tobacco selling to gun selling. First of all: ticket selling. Gun control is one of the hottest of social issues. (I enter into the wording of the second reason at the risk of not sounding appropriately neutral or dispassionate.)
Maybe it might cause there to be one less schoolyard shooting in Americas busy and horrific future with high-tech personal firearms. (See Michael Moore for statistical details of deaths.)
Some complain that Runaway Jury is just more wearisome moralizing. Yes, that may be. The screenplay certainly isnt going to win an Oscar, but I find it even more wearisome and greatly distressing to keep reading about innocent people being blown away like Dylan McDermott is in the first reel of this pretty good movie thats sure to be seen on television in a year or so.
Gary Chew can be reached via email at email@example.com.