John Grisham novels are perfect airport fodder - the sort of diverting trash which last a flight or two, and which can then be discarded without a second thought.
They are thrilling enough to take time and place away while you're locked in your sky-high seat, and with enough diverting turns of plot to keep you on the edge of that confining seat until the very end.
Well, the same is true in the case of film versions of Grisham novels - such as The Pelican Brief and The Chamber. Thrilling, but disposable. But mostly because of outstanding casting, Runaway Jury is a more solid achievement. The excitement and sudden turns in plot are still there, but the achievement seems somehow more durable - this film will keep.
The story is about a civil suit in the States where the widow of a man murdered in a shooting spree asks idealistic lawyer Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to take the gun manufacturer to court for making such a Weapon of Mass Destruction available so easily to the general public.
Yes, the automatic sub-machine gun used in this murder is a real Weapon of Mass Destruction, sold on every street-corner in the States. And the gun lobby fears the worst, if this precedent-setting case goes the plaintiff's way.
Opposing Dustin is the shadowy figure of solicitor Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), an evil manipulator whose specialty is the art of jury selection - how to stack a jury to attain the result you want, first through selection, and then through cajolement, threats or plain old bribery.
But this time things are different. One of the jurors, Nick Easter (John Cusack) has wormed his way onto this jury to manipulate it for his own ends, in partnership with his Girl Friday on the outside, Marlee (Rachel Weisz). He claims he can deliver the jury to either side. He's asking a lot, but the stakes in this case are very high.
The plot differs from the book in one major essential - in the book, the baddies were the tobacco lobby, a rather more silent but just as profound a killer as the gun lobby. I think the change from tobacco to guns achieves heightened impact - and after all, dying through smoking is at least a self-volitional pursuit, compared to the random deaths the gun industry producers.
The themes are strong, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is its confrontation of acting generations. The younger generation is represented extremely well through Rachel Weisz and John Cusack (the latter being one of my very favourite actors), while it's fascinating to see two old pros, Dustin and Gene, battle it out in their very first screen encounter.
Direction and editing make the film's 122-minute length glide past effortlessly. This movie seems trim and taut, with very little excess baggage being carried. It's no masterpiece, but it is a solid entrant in the fun-trash American drama/thriller genre.