My opinion, Sydney, or "take," as so many are wont to
say these days, of Runaway Jury is that it should have just kept
running. The aforementioned was a mean quip that a sarcastic critic might
throw out as a lead while writing about the mentioned film ("aforely").
But, since I normally really don't do critiques of films -- mean or otherwise, I'll limit my thoughts
to the screenwriting aspect of the Runaway Jury -- which I believe was fraught with
problems (but not so many as to not make it to the screen -- possibly because
John Grisham was the author of the novel that the screenplay was based on.
Do ya think?)
I did not read the novel so I don't know how close the
adaptation was to its progenitor. In my humble opinion, the storyline,
notwithstanding its final twist, was far too superficial and repetitive.
Character development was minimal (Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman -- and even
John Cusack, who played the lead -- had very little to work with when it came to
personality transitions). If you think of it, not all that much happened,
and we sat and watched over two hours to notice that.
Courtroom screenplays often fall prey to tedium, lethargy, and
redundancy (sort of like these e-mails). I think some screenwriters
believe that all you need is some legal proceedings and you've got an
automatically dramatic and gripping story. Not so. Definitely not
so. If you can pen (or type) another Inherit The Wind or Anatomy
of a Murder, be my guest. But it can be a daunting task to keep a
viewer involved once a script announces: "INT.
COURTROOM - DAY" All I can say is get ready for a lot of
"objection!"'s and "overruled"'s, not to mention "Sit
down or I'll cite you for contempt of court!"'s.
I guess we were supposed to be continually awed by all the
high-tech equipment and overworked geeks in this big office where Gene Hackman's
character had his fits over things not going his way (which they never did,
which was just another signpost that the story was lacking variety and
transitional properties). We've seen these offices and warehouse of
cutting-edge eavesdropping devices (and in more impressive ways such as in
Enemy of the State).
Without giving anything away (although, if you haven't seen the
film by now, then you might as well not have ever seen Gone With The Wind
-- which I haven't), yes, there is the proverbial twist (if that's what you want
to call it. I don't. It's actually just a revelation that explains
why), but by the time it arrives, we're so thirsty for something -- anything! --
to happen that will wake up our brain cells and get us to pay attention like we
were doing in the beginning, And even this "twist" is not
integrated into the rest of the story so it comes across as a forced "ahhh!"
kind of moment. It's an "Ohh, that's why they did it!"
moment. After that reveal, which is a highly-charged and current sympathy
card played, we're supposed to somehow forgive the connivers, the young man and
the young woman, because of their Robin Hood explanation (an explanation that is
tacked on at the end of the story and is not adequately woven into it). The trouble is
the characters have not been written as very likeable people up to that point --
the point being only a few minutes before the film ends. And we haven't
really been exposed enough to the villain, Gene Hackman's character, the
scheming jury consultant, to really despise him adequately to the point where we
really are invested in him going down.
If you look closely (or not even all that closely), Runaway
Jury is one long "A" story, containing no substantial (or,
possibly, any, for that matter) subplots, which can often point to a shallow
story, which this definitely is.
Another reason the screenplay fails as a masterpiece (or even a good
script) is that the
verdict of the lawsuit of the lady who lost her husband, who was shot by a
man, who used a gun sold by the firearms company, who is the defendant (notice
how long it took me to get to the end of this chain of people and events?
Another indicator that the script suffers with a case of Dire Diffusion) is
not personalized adequately. Generally, we probably (and there is a
"probably" here) take the lady's side, but, because most of the story
is taken up with clichéd moralizing and posturing, and "bad guys keep
trying to outwit the good guy (or guy and girl)," we never get a chance to
feel the heart of the case and, so when the guilty verdict arrives, we've pretty
much already left the courtroom, wanting some fresh air and very likely heading
for Blockbuster for a DVD of a
film that will actually "hit the spot."