Friday 26 December 2014

Movie Review: The Juror (1996)

A bewildering drama about a juror caught up in a mob trial, The Juror misses every mark it aims for and crashes into a ridiculous mess.

Annie Laird (Demi Moore) is an aspiring New York modern art sculptress and single mom of teenager Oliver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Annie is initially excited to be selected as a juror in the high profile trial of mobster Louie Boffano (Tony Lo Bianco), accused of ordering the murder of rival Salvatore Riggio, a botched hit which included the unplanned killing of a young boy as collateral damage.

But Annie is soon regretting her involvement in the trial. Henchmen Mark (Alec Baldwin) and Eddie (James Gandolfini) are assigned to intimidate Annie into voting Not Guilty no matter what. Mark is also known as The Teacher, and he is the actual trigger man in the Riggio murder. He is also psychotic, and sidles up to Annie and starts to dominate her life with threats while also angling to dispose of Boffano. As Annie realizes that her life and Oliver's future are in the hands of The Teacher, she receives another shock: a hung jury is not enough. The mobsters want her to deliver a Not Guilty verdict in order to fully acquit Boffano.

While there is a good story hiding here somewhere about juror intimidation, the final product is a debacle. The Juror is an adaptation of the George Dawes Green book directed by Brian Gibson, and he is incapable of saving a disastrous script by Ted Tally.

Nothing about the film rings true. The Teacher is a baffling combination of philosopher, killer, and wannabe lover, capable of cold blooded child murder and dissolving into a puddle of sentimental goo when staring at photos of Annie's eyes. The actions of the mob are inexplicable, placing Boffano's entire future into The Teacher's hands, after he managed to botch the hit on Riggio. And that initial crime is a sloppy foundation for the story: the Teacher goes chasing after a young boy to kill while leaving another adult witness alive and well in the murder room.

The Juror may have been intended as a courtroom drama, but precious little time is spent within the court or in the jury room. The trial scenes are rushed, while the five minutes that depict Annie's attempts to turn the jury in her favour are the best thing about the film by far. Neither Moore nor Baldwin are remotely convincing in their roles. Better are the performances by young Gordon-Levitt as Annie's son, while Gandolfini as a sympathetic mobster and Anne Heche as Annie's best friend do their best to enliven the film.

The Juror adds to its misery by contriving a climax in, of all places, Guatemala, as bits of unresolved plot are strewn all over the place in order to transform The Teacher into an out of control killing machine and Annie's character into an all-action heroine. The Juror is dismissed for lack of discipline.

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