Political Film Society - Newsletter #181 - October 15, 2003

October 24, 2003


Runaway JuryEarly in Runaway Jury, we are told that 30,000 Americans die and 100,000 are injured each year by guns, statistics that do not stop the National Rifle Association from serving as the public relations front for an industry that rakes in $2 billion each year. Directed by Gary Fleder and based on the novel by John Grisham that targeted Big Tobacco, the film begins with the deaths of eleven members of a firm by a disgruntled former employee who used an automatic weapon that was purchased with questionable legality. Two years later, a widow, Vanessa Lembeck (played by Jennifer Beals), decides to sue the manufacturer of the weapon, Vicksburg. The attorney for the plaintiff is Wendell Rohr (played by Dustin Hoffman), and the gun company's attorney is Durwood Cable (played by Bruce Davison). Since a victory for the plaintiff could easily lead to other suits, eventually bankrupting firearms manufacturers, Vicksburg hires Rankin Fitch (played by Gene Hackman) to fix the jury. However, one juror, Nick Easter (played by John Cusack), is in league with his longtime girlfriend, Marlee (played by Rachel Weisz), who arranges to inform both attorneys that the jury is for sale. With clever interpersonal skills, Easter develops his role to be in a position to sway the jury, and Runaway Jury is quite insightful in revealing how jurors interact. Meanwhile Marlee contacts both lawyers, demanding a nonnegotiable $10 million (later $15 million) as the price for fixing the outcome of the jury's deliberations. By the time the film ends, one side has indeed swallowed the bait and paid the price. Why Marlee and Nick seek to profit from jury tampering, which they pulled off before in other towns, is also revealed in the otherwise predictable ending. The Political Film Society has nominated Runaway Jury for best film on democracy and best film exposé not only for trotting forth the statistics about gun-related deaths in a sleeker manner than Bowling for Columbine (2002) but also for demonstrating that there is a science to jury selection and even jury tampering. Ominously, the film's tagline is that "Trials are too important to be decided by juries." However, the film appears to challenge investigative reporters to find out whether the NRA may have been financing pro-gun films, such as the recent Open Range. That challenge remains. MH

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Runaway Jury
by John Grisham

Millions of dollars are at stake in a huge tobacco-company case in Biloxi, and the jury's packed with people who have dirty little secrets. A mysterious young man takes subtle control of the jury as the defense watches helplessly, but they soon realize that he in turn is controlled by an even more mysterious young woman. Lives careen off course as they bend everyone in the case to their will.

Veronica GuerinOn June 26, 1996, thirty-six-year-old Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was gunned down while driving her car on a motorway outside Dublin. The film Veronica Guerin, directed by Joel Schumacher, tells why she was assassinated and how her death changed the political landscape in Ireland. After depicting the scene in which she was killed, the story moves back two years. Walking on the streets of Dublin, Veronica Guerin (played by Cate Blanchett) finds discarded syringes used as toys by toddlers. Nosing around, she finds teenagers stoned on drugs, and she suspects that the influx of drugs is associated with Ireland's skyrocketing crime rate. She also discovers a weekly march by parents in the syringe-infested neighborhood against drugs, but few are involved. In her news stories, Veronica attempts to raise consciousness of the need to crack down on the drug traffic. Her police informants cooperate, but the constitution and the law are not sufficient to enable the authorities to apprehend notorious druglords, and her pressure on a member of parliament to change the law is brushed aside. Her informant in the crime world, John "Coach" Traynor (played by Ciarán Hinds), gives her additional information, but he is only interested in embarrassing one gang so that his gang will benefit. Undeterred after she is shot in the leg by an unknown assailant, she confronts a top kingpin, John Gilligan (played by Gerard McSorley), who beats her up and then threatens to kidnap her six-year-old old son, rape him, and kill her if she either exposes him in the newspaper or presses charges in court. Veronica, nevertheless, goes to court, but Gilligan gets a delay in the arraignment and an associate boasts that more delays will occur in the future. A few days later, on June 26, Veronica is shot dead. (Titles at the end of the film indicate that more than 200 journalists have died in recent years.) The violence that she sustained previously had made her a national heroine, so her death made her a national martyr. The neighborhood marchers grow to thousands. The constitution is amended. And parliament passes appropriate legislation to seize the assets of suspected druglords, many of whom are then apprehended, stripped of their assets, and imprisoned. The crime rate falls. "Coach" flees to Portugal, where he fights extradition. Gilligan flees to England, is extradited, and in 2001 imprisoned for twenty-eight years. A remake of the less popular Irish film When the Sky Falls (2000), Veronica Guerin illustrates what can be done to stop drug trafficking in a homogeneous country, thus containing a message very different from Traffic (2000), Blow (2001), and Our Lady of the Assassins (2001). Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Veronica Guerin as best film on democracy and best film exposé of 2003. MH