One Angry Man: Runaway Jury is more poignant now than ever. Seriously.

Tomorrow I have jury duty. It’s my first time ever being summoned and I decided I would celebrate as all sensible people do – with a movie marathon! Every jury eve I will watch an appropriate jury themed movie from my ample DVD collection in order to commemorate the occasion.

Obviously, first up was 2003’s treasure trove of artificial tension Runaway Jury. The only other time I had seen this classic was in theaters well before I put on my Tom Ford cinephile glasses. I remember liking it and thinking John Cusack was the man. I also remember thinking that it was clearly everyone’s favorite movie. Even with 10 years now since the movie’s release, I was certain it was well-regarded and well remembered.

I think I was wrong. It’s just kind of average. 61 on Metacritic. 7.0 on IMDb. 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. Huh. But everyone knows it right? It’s what everyone thinks of when you think of a jury. Oh, you think of 12 Angry Men? Get out of my house! How dare you pretend to be a film snob! You think of Dustin Hoffman’s ridiculous accent and you know it! But wait, it ranked 59th in the yearly box office for 2003. For a reference point, in 2012 that was the insta-classic This Means War. So maybe I completely overvalued the cultural caché of Runaway Jury.

But I completely didn’t. This movie is so uninterested with being anything other than “isn’t it funny what John Cusack can make a jury do?” that it’s actually fascinating. The best part of the whole movie is the jury selection. You get such great conversations as this beauty:

Evil Goon #3: “See how she turned away from that dog? She’s self conscious about her weight.”

Lex Luthor: “We love fat women, people. They’re tight-fisted. Unsympathetic. I want her on my jury.”

A screenplay for the ages. Of all of the incredibly important things to mention about this movie from a distracting Dylan McDermott cameo (then an unknown and uncredited!) to the actually incompetent lawyer abilities of Dustin Hoffman’s character I want to talk about two things more potent.

1) This is obviously exactly what my experience as a juror will be like. Except I’m the juror that gets kicked out for sneaking in flask of Jack Daniels. I’m glad this movie appropriately set my expectations of the justice system.

2) The trial surrounds a murder at the workplace using a semi automatic weapon. In light of recent events at Sandy Hook, the upstate New York fireman shooting, and now the ever-so-slightly-increased gun control laws, director Gary Fleder lets you know 100% what side of the issue he is on. It is eventually revealed that John Cusack and Rachel Weisz were involved in a school shooting that during the trial for it Gene Hackman defended the gun company and he won. There’s a lot of discussion about upholding the 2nd amendment as if it’s this catch-all for being anti-gun control, which is fine and all, but that’s really about it for the defense. But when it comes to the plaintiff, we’ve got backstories, children singing happy birthday, Dustin Hoffman’s friendly accent on a team of lawyers that just want to win fair and sqaure, and to boot the endorsement of our protagonists.

Full disclosure – I agree. There should be stricter gun control laws at least as it pertains to the recreational use and ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. However, the movie portrays “the gun industry” with such villainy not seen since well… General Zod. With the discussion of gun control so heated and involved right now, this movie serves as a weird landmark in how it is impossible to separate the emotion out of this issue. Even in a movie that hinges on the assumption that all trials are rigged and the system is all an analyst’s game of chess that emotion and fairness in humanity will ultimately triumph.

Who remembered that Runaway Jury was as heavy and political as it was insipid and cheesy?


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