Lawyer Wendell Rohr hopes to make legal history by holding gun manufacturers responsible for a shooting. But the jury consultant for the gun guys, Rankin Fitch, will happily play dirty. Will he take juror Nick Easter and girlfriend Marlee up on their offer of a fixed jury?
Gene Hackman must have felt at home making this, his third John Grisham adaptation (after 'The Firm' and 'The Chamber'). All the requisite conspiracies, cons and legal wranglings are securely in place - even if Grisham's tobacco industry theme has been replaced with guns.
The voyeuristic thrills of surveillance technology whisk us through the film's opening sequence, introducing potential jurors before laying them bare to the ruthless, reductive selection of Hackman's jury consultant ("We love fat women, people!" he announces to his bustling, deferential team). Such aggression offers a sharp contrast to Dustin Hoffman's liberal, quietly clever lawyer, who has only a volunteer psychology graduate (Jeremy Piven) with which to compete against the big guys.
Enter John Cusack as juror Nicholas Easter and the fun really begins - for Easter is a conman, a master manipulator capable of influencing each juror's decisions. Much time is spent revealing his technique as he works his magic on his fellows, all of it enjoyable. Darker moments come courtesy of Rachel Weisz as his ambitious girlfriend, who courts danger in her attempts to outwit both Fitch and Rohr during clandestine negotiations.
Naturally there are twists in the tale, and the pace remains punchy until the end, in which the message is delivered with an admittedly heavy hand. But while this film's moralistic take on the gun debate may be raising controversy in the States, to many its subjectivity will be forgivable.
The casting is, with the possible exception of Hoffman, spot-on, albeit highly reminiscent of the actors' previous roles (think of Hackman in 'Enemy Of The State' and 'The Firm', Cusack in 'Grosse Pointe Blank' and Weisz in 'Confidence'). But it's the familiarity of it all that makes this a movie for movie-lovers: those who like good old-fashioned popcorn entertainment that reminds them of their favourite films.
Hackman, Cusack and Weisz put in enjoyable performances in a pacy, if ultimately preachy, thriller. It's unashamedly mainstream, but none the worse for it. Pure entertainment.