TRIAL BY JURY. Directed by Heywood Gould; written by Jordan Katz and Heywood Gould; produced by James G. Robindon, Chris Meledandri and Mark Gordon for Warner Bros. Starring Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Armand Assante, Gabriel Byrne and William Hurt. Rated R (violence, language, sexual suggestion)
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If you've recently received a jury summons, do not, I repeat, DO NOT see this movie!
The title, you see, has a double meaning, beyond the usual idea of a defendant being tried in front of a jury. Here, the jury, or at least one juror, is also put through a harrowing trial.
The movie's not a great thriller, but it's moderately effective. Certainly effective enough to have scared me out of answering one of those summons.
Valerie (Whalley-Kilmer) is a single mother and a small business-person who's unlucky enough to get assigned to a jury in a nasty murder trial. The defendant is Rusty Pirone (Assante) who's accused not only of committing several grisly murders, but also of enjoying it.
When Pirone begins to think he may actually be convicted, he has his thugs "lean" on a selected juror—Valerie. They threaten her and her son, and are obviously skilled enough at what they do to make the threats credible. All she has to do is vote to acquit.
Trial by Jury is actually a surprisingly good drama. Considering that the main character, Valerie, is somewhat underacted by Whalley-Kilmer, and the lead thug is rather overacted by Hurt (with a crummy hairstyle, to boot).
Assante is on-target as the sadistic Pirone, though, (he has the best lines, too, especially his last—listen for it). And Byrne is convincing as an ambitious prosecutor.
What saves the movie from the shaky performances is a clever script that, in spite of being basically predictable, has a few surprises up its sleeve. Valerie undergoes some interesting changes as the trial (and hers) progress. It's a shame that Whalley-Kilmer, while an appealing enough actress, just doesn't seem to be able to put sufficient punch into the character.
Trial by Jury is worth seeing for courtroom buffs, since it gives some new spin to an old setting. It will particularly be worth a look in video. But if its story hits too close to home, don't forget my warning!
September 21, 1994