Trial by Jury (1994)

Jury trials can be mentally intimidating for those involved, asking strangers to condemn or exonerate a person is an emotionally stressful task for 12 people. As such, those who are professionals in preserving, and those breaking the law have certain tactics that help their side win the argument. In 1994, a fictionalised study of these tactics yielded an interesting thriller, in the film Trial by Jury.

Gabriel Byrne, taking somewhat of a break, portraying a character trying to uphold the law.

When ruthless Mob Boss Rusty Perone is facing a tough sentence. His syndicate adopts some proactive methods to ensure his freedom. Witnesses are disappearing left and right, and lead prosecutor Daniel Graham is determined to bag this big case. Their fate lies on the shoulders of antiques seller Valerie Alston. Early in the trial, she is approached by Perone’s enforcers with a proposition: Help the mob boss be acquitted or risk her son’s life. The darkness of the world of organised crime threatens Valerie’s every step as she deliberates. How far is Valerie willing to go to pervert the course of justice? And what will her actions cost her?

British-born Joanne Whalley is a surprising fit as Valerie.

At its heart, it is a thriller, but Trial by Jury still makes compelling legal drama (much like the title alludes to) also manages to delve somewhat into the inner workings of both sides of the law. Trying to win with methods both on and off the book, from microtargeted jury selection and witness management to intimidation and assassinations. The jury deliberation scenes contain fascinating legal insight like a heavily condensed version of 12 Angry Men, especially as Valerie makes arguments and plays games of her own. If debate sounds dull, the film has a lot of action, particularly opening on a well-choreographed mob hit, that you can sense coming but cannot turn away. Regardless of your tastes, Trial by Jury has a lot to offer.

Though used relatively sparingly, Armand Assante performance reaches great heights.

You would also expect the big names to perform substantially here and unsurprisingly they earn their paycheques. Particularly the likes of William Hurt and Joanne Whalley. William Hurt plays the Tommy Vesey, who serves as this mobster liaison role to Valerie and as an ex-cop can move with impunity. It allows his character a certain omnipresence that serves to make the risks constant. Moreover, when Armand Assante’s Pirone demonstrates his power and reaches in the flesh, he can be effectively intimidating especially in a scene towards the middle, where he lays out his philosophy with a memorable menacing steely gaze. But the praise should mainly go with Valerie, who is a rather multifaceted protagonist with Stockport’s own Joanne Whalley being no stranger to complex characters like this.

Multifaceted is just one of the ways to describe Valerie.

Trial by Jury is a film of its time down to both its strengths and its shortcomings. Despite this, newcomers will probably find it a fascinating film, what with it being a mob flick, legal drama, and ethical dilemma all rolled into one. The experienced cast sells each of these elements as they layer and pile on. Trial by Jury will keep you guessing and interested as it goes on. Suffice to say, you should hear it out before you judge it.

William Hurt’s Tommy Vesey ups the stakes!

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