‘Runaway Jury’ is a book written by John Grisham – a master of legal thriller novels. A writer who is also known for ‘The Client’ and ‘The Pelican Brief’, two other novels that have been adapted into movies. Familiar to the whole adaptation thing, John Grisham is an author whose writing reads like a screenplay. Usually, you’ll find a very strong plot, delivered by well-built characters and a dialogue that is simple and to the point. His books tend to be quite honest and straight, abiding by the golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell!’
In ‘Runaway Jury’ the scenery is set right from the beginning. The descriptions, though relatively minimal, guide the reader towards a clear and solid image. In New Orleans, there is a critical trial taking place. A widow, Celeste Wood, files a suit against a Tobacco Company for being responsible for her husband’s death. The reason why this trial is so important is the money that’s at stake. The plaintiff, played by Dustin Hoffman, wants to win this case for two reasons: the widow’s compensation and the opportunity to start a series of new lawsuits.
On the other side, the Tobacco Company has to win for the very same reason – they can’t afford a precedent that allows new lawsuits and compensations. In order to avoid this, the four big tobacco companies collaborate and hire a jury consultant Fitch (Gene Hackman) to help them. Fitch is a really smart guy, but with no morals at all and totally prepared to do whatever it takes to deliver their verdict, as he quotes ‘there are some things too important to be left on juries’. However, things don’t go as he plans, since Nickolas (John Cusack) and Marlee (Rachel Weisz) have their own agenda. Nickolas is a juror of the trial and prepared to play dirty as well in order to get the verdict that he wants.
In terms of the adaptation, the story is there, the characters are there, but it seems as though the visualization of the film is in some way lacking. In 2003 the movie was released and it turned out to be one of those adaptations better called ‘inspired by’ instead of ‘based on’. There were so many alternations that initially I got confused as to whether or not I was watching the right film. The Tobacco Company became Gun Company, the plot was changed, the motives of each side were changed, the ending… The list is so long that it would be wiser to list what was left the same.
It’s not like the movie ends up as something bad, not at all, on the contrary. Each of the actors played well and the director, Gary Fleder, managed to create the necessary atmosphere. Even the screenplay, written by Brian Koppelman (also known for Ocean’s Thirteen), managed to keep some of the more interesting quotes that the writer gives in the book. It just feels a bit strange to adapt a book if you’re going to alter it to the point that it is virtually unrecognisable.
Runaway Jury (film) at IMDb
Runaway Jury (film) at Rotten Tomatoes
Runaway Jury (novel) at Wikipedia
Runaway Jury (film) at Wikipedia
Runaway Jury (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
John Grisham at Wikipedia