If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I don't often read or review bestsellers. If you're a newcomer, take a quick look around the blog and you'll see what I mean. Go ahead. We'll wait.
Oh, sure, I've read my share of bestsellers over the years. And I still occasionally read a book (fiction or non-fiction) that happens to be (or has been) a bestseller. But that's a happy coincidence. I didn't choose and read the book because of it's place on a list. I picked it because it looked like something I was interested in reading.
But as a rule, I don't read many bestsellers. To be honest, many of them just do not appeal to my tastes. Besides, a bestseller list is in no way a measure of quality. It's a tabulation of popularity. Some books that hit the list are extremely well written, while others are, frankly, crap.
I'm not sure where John Grisham falls on that spectrum. I know he's written a lot of books over the past twenty five years, most of which became both bestsellers and popular, successful films. I'm sure some of his books are solid and well crafted. I'm also sure there's probably a clunker or two in there somewhere. But I can't speak for certain because I've never read a John Grisham book. I've just never had an interest in delving into his body of legal thrillers and other types of stories. I dunno, maybe I'm missing something. Maybe there are some good, first rate books of his that I really need to check out. If so, I'd appreciate hearing from my faithful readers as to which, if any, Grisham books you recommend. Who knows, I may eventually get around to reading one or two someday. But until then, there are so many other books I have on my shelves that I really must get around to that Mr. Grisham will have to wait.
And when it comes to film versions of Grisham novels, until yesterday, I'd only ever seen one, THE RAINMAKER (1997), which was directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola. I recall liking the film, but not enough to want to read the book upon which it was based. That's the way I feel about RUNAWAY JURY (2003) which I watched yesterday. It's a good, well-crafted smooth-as-silk cinematic legal thriller but not oh-my-god-this-is-great enough to warrant reading the book.
The story centers around a civil trial in New Orleans in which a major gun manufacturer is being sued for damages by the widow of a man killed in a mass shooting in which the killer used one of the company's guns. Representing the plaintiff is Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) while the lead attorney for the gun makers is one Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison). But the real power behind the defense is legendary jury "fixer" Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), who uses a team of operatives and high tech equipment to surveil all of the potential jurors and make sure they get the people they want on the jury.
But one of the jurors, Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), is a wild card. Nothing is known about his background and we see Nick and his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz) plotting to make sure Nick gets impaneled. He does and as the trial begins, it becomes apparent that Nick and Marlee are up to something. Just what their real agenda is is not revealed until the end of the film but they present themselves to both Rohr and Fitch as being able to swing the jury to deliver the verdict they each want.
For a price.
There are several nifty twists and turns in the fast moving plot before the big surprise ending. Director Gary Fleder keeps things moving swiftly and the on location shooting by cinematographer Robert Elswit adds much to the film. I recognized a couple of "hey! I've been there!" locations including Cafe du Monde and The Court of Two Sisters restaurant. The screenplay is by a committee consisting of Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman. That's usually a bad sign, especially when the script is an adaptation of previously exiting material. Not having read the book, I can only judge the screenplay on it's own merits and I found it to be a good one.
But the real pleasure in watching RUNAWAY JURY, is to see two great American actors (and life long friends), act together in a film for the first time in their respective careers. Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman are both terrific and their big dramatic showdown scene (which occurs in a courthouse men's room), is well staged and delivered by these two old pros. RUNAWAY JURY is worth watching just to see these guys at work (Hackman makes a great bad guy) while the "what-is-really-going-on?" plot will keep you guessing right up until the end. Recommended.