Follow TV Tropes


Film / Runaway Jury

Go To

Fitch: You think your average juror is King Solomon? No! He's a roofer with a mortgage. He wants to go home and sit in his Barcalounger and let the cable TV wash over him. And this man doesn't give a single, solitary droplet of shit about truth, justice or your American way.
Rohr: They're people, Fitch.
Fitch: My point, exactly.

Runaway Jury is a 2003 film adaptation of the John Grisham novel The Runaway Jury, directed by Gary Fleder and starring John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman.

A failed day trader in New Orleans, Louisiana shows up at his former workplace with a semiautomatic handgun and opens fire on the employees, killing several of them before turning the gun on himself. Two years later, Celeste Wood, the widow of one of the victims, claims that the gun manufacturer's negligence led to her husband's death and takes them to court, represented by lawyer Wendell Rohr (Hoffman).

Defending the gun manufacturer is attorney Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison), backed by jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Hackman) and his team of over a dozen employees, who set up an extensive surveillance system in the back of an abandoned costume shop to relay instructions to Cable in the courtroom. Fitch's team gather intelligence on the potential jurors for the case, including easy-going video game store clerk Nicholas Easter (Cusack). Fitch tries to manipulate the selection process to stack the jury with people likely to vote for the defense, but Easter baits the judge into putting him on the jury to give him a lesson in civic duty.

It soon becomes apparent that Easter and his girlfriend Marlee (Weisz) have a hidden agenda of their own, as Easter subtly manipulates the jury inside the courtroom (including getting them to vote Herman Grimes, a blind man with extensive knowledge of law, as foreman rather than Fitch's choice of inactive Marine Frank Herrera) and Marlee approaches both Fitch and Rohr with promises to deliver their desired verdicts for $10 million. Rohr decides he'd rather win the case on its merits, but Fitch is angered by the offer and fights back against the two grifters. The battle escalates as Easter's apartment is raided and Marlee is attacked by a hitman, while a key witness has a meltdown on the stand, threatening to scuttle Fitch's case. Just as deliberation begins, Fitch's researchers make a shocking discovery about who Easter and Marlee really are, and why they are so interested in the case.

This work provides examples of:

  • Actionized Adaptation: The office shooting, bailiffs dragging a belligerent anti-gun potential juror from the courtroom, and Marlee's fight with Fitch's Psycho for Hire are all unique to the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Marlee makes one phone call to the plaintiff's side in the book, hinting at her influence on the jury, but she never makes a second call, and neither Marlee nor Rohr reference this conversation later on. In the film, she repeatedly calls them, making it harder to tell whose side she's on.
  • Adaptational Heroism: While Rohr represents the "good" side in the original novel, it also explains how he is also manipulating the jury with his simple, country lawyer act in the same way that the antagonists are. In the film he is much more honest and only has one jury consultant who asked to work with him.
  • Answer Cut: When Nicholas tracks down the judge at a restaurant and explains to him the jurors haven't had their lunch yet (thanks to the machinations of Nicholas and Marlee), the judge asks, "Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" Cut to all of the jurors enjoying lunch in that same restaurant.
  • Batter Up!: After Nicholas catches Doyle breaking into his apartment, he chases him out. Doyle gets to his car and is about to pull out when Nicholas swings a pipe against the window - as if it was a baseball bat - breaking it.
  • Bland-Name Product: Vicksburg Firearms. They dolled up a handgun with a 36 round magazine for the film.
    • Hitch's team finds out that Nick Easter went to Bloomington University, which is a thinly veiled expy of Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Briar Patching: Nick makes sure that he is selected by trying to get himself excused note .
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • Several of Fitch's employees (such as his assistant Amanda, Evil Genius Lamb, and Psycho for Hire Jankovitch) have no book counterparts.
    • None of Rohr's jury consultants in the book have Lawrence Green's name or role in the plot.
    • In the book Marlee is an only child, while in the film she has a twin sister who died in a school shooting.
  • Damsel Fight-and-Flight Response: Marlee hits the guy twice and, when he still catches her before she manages to escape, she stabs his leg with a piece of wood.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Deconstructed down to the core with Jacob Wood, who is introduced as a protagonist, and then promptly killed.
  • Evil, Inc.: Fitch's company specializes in fixing court cases for the right price and are willing to do anything to win. Fitch's team blackmails uncooperative jurors, breaks into Nick's apartment and sends a hitman to kill Marlee.
    • Vicksburg Arms is a downplayed example. The audience learns in the trial that Vicksburg Arms products are heavily used in violent crime and Vicksburg's president states that he doesn't care where their weapons end up, but the company isn't explicitly evil.
  • Gender Flip: Male juror Eddie Weese is a loose counterpart to female juror Angel Weese from the book.
  • The Ghost: We never see the whistle-blower who knew Vicksburg Firearms didn't care about criminals getting their guns. Director Gary Fleder explained if we saw the whistle-blower played by a name actor, we would wonder how Fitch got to him and where he went. It is kept vague, other than Rohr angrily asking Fitch if the witness was bribed or his family was threatened.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Subverted with Nicholas, but played straight with Marlee. She treats Rohr with the same disdain with which she treats Fitch.
  • Hidden Depths: Herman Grimes was almost excused from jury duty because of his blindness, but once he threw his knowledge of the law in the judge's face, he was accepted. It was this event that caused the jury to vote him as foreman.
  • Hollywood Law: Several examples are relied on for the plot.
    • Super Lawyer: Rankin Fitch. He's evil, has a command center filled with computer screens, and apparently capable of quickly breaking into encrypted files.
    • Dream Team: Wendell Rohr and the two conspiring protagonists. In real life, it would mean serious prison time if caught (just as with Hackman's own attempted jury tampering.)
    • Deus ex Machina Lawyer: The Hero lawyer only wins because one of the Super Lawyer's employees betrays him.
  • Ironic Echo: "Well, you're only lead counsel for the defense, Mr. Cable. You shouldn't pretend to know very much about jury selection."
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: At the core of the plot are attempts to coerce or incapacitate the jurors in a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer for gross negligence leading to the plaintiff's husband's death from an office shooting.
  • Jury Duty: Subverted. The protagonist uses Obfuscating Stupidity and gives the judge all these trivial excuses not to serve as part of a Batman Gambit to make sure he is selected.
    "It was like poetry. The judge threatened to hang me."
  • Motive Decay:
    • Doyle works for the defense. He's sent to find out some information about someone on the jury. Near the climax of the movie, his boss (played by Gene Hackman) tells Doyle he needs information before the jury deliberates. Doyle blows him off and continues to investigate, which makes no sense at all. Instead of telling his employer that the juror is using an assumed name, which would get him thrown off the jury, Doyle continues to investigate as if finding out what the juror's motivation is would be more important than winning the case.
      • The point of this is that if said juror really is neutral, they can get him to win the case for them. This is quicker and simpler than derailing the court proceedings, which would just restart the process.
  • Mythology Gag: In the original novel the Lawsuit of the Week had the plaintiff suing a tobacco company for her husband's death from smoking-related illness. The movie retains a number of references to the pros and cons of smoking (e.g. The Protagonist telling a neighbor that he should quit), which are a leftover from the source material.
  • Playing Possum: Marlee plays possum to stab a hitman's leg.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Tobacco in the book was swapped for guns in the movie.
  • Psycho for Hire: Mr. Janovich. He torches Nick's place and then assaults Marlee in her apartment.
  • The Reveal: Two of them.
    • First, Doyle learns that Nick Easter is actually Jeff Kerr, a law school drop-out whose girlfriend, Gabby, is actually Nick's "accomplice", and her sister was killed in a school shooting years ago, and Fitch had successfully defended the manufacturer in a lawsuit brought by Gabby's mother.
    • After the verdict, Nick informs Fitch that despite accepting the bribe from Fitch's team, Nick never had control over the jury - he was just countering attempts at tampering with them, though being able to blackmail Finch into retirement was an added bonus, and that the money will instead go to the victims in the school shooting.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One replacement juror is a goth-looking young woman named Lydia Deets.
    • Those would be some Bohrok-Kal in the opening.
    • Fitch's line stating that "this man doesn't give a single, solitary droplet of shit about truth, justice or your American way" is a reference to Superman. Gene Hackman, who plays Fitch, used to play Lex Luthor in Superman films.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Dustin Hoffman plays this as Wendell Rohr, against Gene Hackman's jury rigger Rankin Fitch.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Marlee's mother is long dead in the book, but she's alive in the movie.
  • Suicide by Pills: Rikki Coleman attempts this but is saved before she can die. She was Driven to Suicide by blackmailers who were going to reveal the fact that she had an abortion if she remained a jury member.
  • The Un-Reveal: It isn't revealed which two jurors vote for the defense. Herrera makes a strong pro-defense argument during deliberations, but Nicholas's response may have given him a Heel Realization. Fitch is shown exerting influence on Eddie, Lonnie, and Millie, but it's unclear if his efforts succeed with any of them.
  • Uncertain Doom: Jacob's secretary is last seen hiding near him, trying to call the police. While the gunman almost certainly shoots her right after Jacob, it's unclear if she's one of the eleven fatalities or is only wounded.