The Juror

Art you feel up
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
Brian Gibson
Starring: 
Demi Moore, Alec Bladwin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Heche, James Gandolfini, Tony Lo Bianco
The Setup: 
Woman on a jury is harassed to deliver a ‘not guilty’ verdict in a big Mafia trial.
Discussion: 

I have no clue why I started to become interested in 90s crap. 80s crap is understandable, it’s got all the goofy hairstyles and awesome music and such, but the 90s? I don’t know… I think it started when I watched Enough [even though that was 2002, it was a 90s holdover], then The Temp, then The Crush, then Diabolique [1996], and then this. Plus it was time to get some Demi Moore on. And I kind of wanted to see this when it was out, but never did. Whatever.

So the DVD begins with the common message that the picture “has been formatted to fit THIS screen.” I always want to ask: You mean, THIS SPECIFIC screen? MY screen? MY little screen is going to serve as the template for all those other, lesser screens out there? I’m so honored—but then again, I have a fabulous, well-formed screen that should serve as an example to all. Anyway, we begin with these murals of “Justice” and suchlike and you breathe a luxurious sigh of relief as you say “Ahhh, the banal pompousness of the 90s!” it’s a potent brew. Then one of the paintings morphs into this kid’s face as he wakes up to hear his parents being slaughtered. He sees the blood and viscera draining from their hideously disfigured bodies [not shown], runs downstairs, and is shot by some guy whose eyes we recognize as Alec Baldwin’s. This whole sequence is only the crime that the forthcoming trial is supposed to be about, and serves no function in the story but to give you a little action up front, because it’s all going to be boring old character development for a while.

So it’s back to the murals and the credits continue: Joseph Gordon-Levitt [of Mysterious Skin], Anne Heche, James Gandolfini, Lindsay Crouse [Professor Walsh!], and Tony Lo Bianco of my beloved Honeymoon Killers and God Told Me To. Holy shit! What a cast! We meet Demi [her name is Annie, but come on, we’re talking about Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin] as she expresses enthusiasm for being on a jury. And she has heard absolutely nothing about the case, a Mafia killing apparently all over the news, because she’s an artist and doesn’t read papers or watch the news. So our main character is ignorant. Face it. I suspect that in the “best-selling thriller” she wasn’t as good-looking and glamorous as Demi Moore, so this whole angle might have worked. As it is, this scene doesn’t quite come off. Watch the supposedly shy Demi launch into this standup comedy routine about her gosh-darn adorable son while she’s being interviewed.

So Demi piles into her car [the 90s: when admirable characters could still drive SUVs] and heads off to her SECRETARIAL JOB AT A CHURCH. I can totally see how that supports her in her fabulous converted farmhouse home. Speaking of that home, Baldwin, as “the Teacher,” is in there while Demi is out picking up her kid and driving home. He's scanning photos, bugging the house and copying phone numbers and getting to know her. He thinks she’s “sexy and smart.” Not only is she, but she’s also a wonderful mother; she enthusiastically plays video games with her son! And while she does all this, Baldwin is listening to her.

So Baldwin goes down to SoHo [Demi lives in this totally rural area but exhibits her artwork—without selling much, apparently—in SoHo] and buys some of Demi’s pieces, contriving to meet her outside the gallery. They go to a café, where I recognized this guy I used to see around on the NYC Leather scene as an extra, then back to Demi’s farmhouse to see her art. It seems that Demi creates art you feel up—that is, these boxes [yes, BOXES] you stick your arm in with the purpose of fondling what’s in there. Demi’s trying to act all sensual while Baldwin’s got his hand shoved up her box. They even call out the subtext when Baldwin says he’s “Reaching up here and feeling all your…” “Private stuff?” she finishes.

Then he drops the act and tells her that he’s sent by the Mafia to get her to vote not guilty. He tells her he’ll hurt her kid and friends—Heche is the friend—unless she goes along. By now we’ve had all this subtle build-up of the idea that Demi and Baldwin make a hot, sexy couple, which is added to when an old boyfriend calls Demi and she brushes him off with “Actually, I have someone here and he doesn’t appreciate these calls. And neither do I.”

Please note the steaming HOT garbage dumpster around 30:25.

Then more pressure on Demi, and she goes home and YELLS at her son, telling him “I swear to God I will beat the shit out of you!” What happened to the happy, video-game playin’ mom of yesterday? Then Heche shows up and forces Demi to talk to her about it. There’s a good moment in which Oliver, her son, is all worried about going behind his mother’s back to notify her best friend, and Demi says “I’m glad you went to Juliet.” Juliet, however, tells her to go see the judge, which is verboten, and after that, Demi just assumes that no one can help her—she doesn’t go to the police or anyone.

Then Alec picks Demi up and with Rodney, a drunkard. He passes Rodney a baby bottle with booze in it, and he lies down in the back seat to nurse it. It would seem that the Mafia is keeping Rodney and other drunkards like him on their books for occasions such as this. I wondered; does MADD know that the Mafia is funding drunk drivers? That’s what blew MY mind. Can you imagine the Jennifer Lopez comeback vehicle in which she plays a Mom who’s lost a child to a drunk driver training in jujitsu to take down THE MOB? I don’t know why it’s me who has to think of these things. Anyway, Alec threateningly weaves all over the road, while forcing Demi to swear allegiance to the Mafia and almost hitting and killing precious little Oliver. I totally remember this scene from the trailer when this movie was out.

SPOILERS > > >
So Demi and her son write notes to each other, then he has to go stay with their obese family friend. We find out that Baldwin is considered a psycho by his Mafia companions and that he never had any friends. We see some mega-obvious Snapple product placement, including a line speaking a specific product name. Then Baldwin shows up at the crappy motel Demi is stuck in with her fellow jurors while they’re sequestered, and tells her a mistrial is not enough, she has to get the entire jury to acquit. So the Demi we are supposed to understand is meek and mousy [if only the movie had the spine to show her like that] now supposedly becomes more ballsy and after a few days has convinced the entire jury to deliver a verdict of not guilty. You will notice in here that while the word “cocksucker” is bandied around with total impunity and not a hint of protest, a woman on the jury objects to the word “greaseball” when speaking of Italians.

So you’re sitting there like, “Okay, so the trial’s over, but it’s only an hour into this two hour movie.” Oh, I KNOW. And we haven’t even mentioned the word “Guatemala” yet.

Anyway, no sooner is the trial over than Professor Walsh and her peeps corner Demi and tell her to turn on the Mafia, but she refuses. Walsh promises Demi that Oliver won’t be killed and I’m like “How does she know that?” I would SO love to see the sequel where Oliver does get murdered and Demi transforms herself into a killing machine to take Walsh and her cronies out. So later Heche is by Demi’s and they’re all celebrating the trial being over, and it’s not a second after Heche announces that she “has a new boyfriend” that you know who it is. This is part of Alec’s plan to make sure Demi stays quiet about the whole business. He fucks Heche, then tells her who he is and, while she’s still naked and sweaty in bed, forces her to take an overdose. It is an UGLY and unnecessary scene—why do they HAVE to be in bed, her having just been fucked? It leaves the implication that it’s somehow her fault for tumbling into bed with this guy she just met. And the whole eroticization of him killing her—bad news, folks. Icky.

This causes Demi to go apeshit and destroy her artworks and studio. Then: Guatemala! She’s there with the guy who called earlier [a-ha, you knew there was some reason he was in the story!] and stays long enough to dump the kid on him and return to the states. Oh God, there’s all this stuff that so boring I can’t even go into it, but eventually she ends up back there, and so does Baldwin. One notable thing about it is the inclusion of the longest Guatemalan religious street festival ever. We see little Oliver in the parade, then cut back to New York where both Demi and Alec separately get on planes to Guatemala. Demi’s flight was routed through Houston, but even so, she still manages to get there while the parade’s in full swing! The whole thing ends predictably.
< < < SPOILERS END

Could have been worse, I suppose, but it certainly could have been a lot better. Alec plays a good charming psycho, he throws himself into it with gusto, but his character is just not all that well-drawn. We understand throughout that he’s supposed to be growing personally obsessed with Demi, kind of falling in love with her, but one never really feels it, and nothing in the script really demonstrates how his feelings for her differ from what they might be for anyone else he might have to work with. Demi’s character, as I mentioned, is nearly undone by her being Demi Moore. So although she’s supposed to be mousy and meek at the beginning, and grow to be more confident and firm over the course of the film, she’s fully actualized, has a successful art career and a fabulous house, is confident, dresses great and is sexy throughout. So again, we’re told that a change is happening, but we don’t see it. I have always liked Alec Baldwin—SO funny in The Shadow—and was kind of expecting to mock Demi Moore, but she won me over. She doesn’t try too hard, she’s relatively convincing, and she’s charming. It’s too bad the script didn’t allow her to really transform on camera, as the story would have had her done.

Apparently this book was also was adapted into the movie Trial by Jury, which I didn’t see, but is said to be not great, but a little different than this one. That stars Armand Assante in the Baldwin role. It’s too bad in general, because the whole “influencing a juror” angle was pretty intriguing, but I guess we’re still waiting for the movie that can make something of that.

Should you watch it: 

There’s no real reason to, unless you’re some sort of Demi Moore freak or some shit.