Runaway Jury review by Mike Long

I love horror movies. I love the vicarious thrill of these movies and the often macabre storylines that they contain. And while I find many horror movies creepy, I'll be honest -- few of them actually scare me. However, there are some movies which terrify me. Runaway Jury, with its portrayal of corruption and greed in the legal system, is the kind of film which terrifies me, causing me to ask, "Is this real?"

Runaway Jury opens with stockbroker Jacob Wood (an uncredited Dylan McDermott) being murdered in his office by a gunman. The story then leaps ahead one year, where Wood's widow, Celeste (Joanna Going), has sued the company which made the gun used to kill her husband. Attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) is representing Celeste. The gunmaker's attorney, Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison), has called in jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) to ensure that the jurors will be the kind of people who will side with the gunmaker. Fitch and his staff use high-tech surveillance, wire-tapping, and background checks to decide which jurors will be right for their cause.

Nicholas Easter is a happy-go-lucky video store employee who is summoned to jury duty on this particular case. Nick is reluctant to attend and appears truly upset when he is chosen for the trial. But, Nick, and his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz) seem to have a definite interest in the case. Fitch, a merciless man who is very accustomed to winning, is very surprised when he receives an anonymous note from someone who claims to have the jury in their pocket. With Rohr determined to keep to the moral high-ground, and Fitch attempting to learn the nature of the extortionist, one can't help buy wonder how the seemingly innocent Nick fits into all of this.

Prior to viewing Runaway Jury, I'd never seen a film based on one of John Grisham's works, nor have I read any of his book, thus I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a very entertaining and enthralling thriller which keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat until the end, while raising many important and frightening ethical issues. While we've all seen courtroom dramas which feature the attorneys, the defendant, or the witnesses, rarely (outside of Twelve Angry Men) do we see a story which focuses on the jury. With this film, we get to know most of the jurors and see how their personalities influence their feelings about the trial. But, even more interesting is the plot concerning Gene Hackman's character and his ability to pick his own jury using his abilities and influence. Add to this the notion that someone is attempting to control the jury from inside, and you've got the makings for a taut thriller. While Hackman is clearly the villain of Runaway Jury, the morals of the other characters aren't clear until the finale, and the film is full of surprising twists and turns. While there are a few action scenes, the movie relies mostly on its clever script and acting to excite the audience. And to also frighten the audience. I don't know about you, but the concept of handpicking a jury was new to me, and I find that kind of corruption very scary. (It's my understanding that many changes have been made from the novel. Having not read it, I can't comment on these changes.)

One of the main focuses of the marketing for Runaway Jury was the fact that the film marks the first time that Hackman and Hoffman have appeared on-screen together. And while their performances are good, there's nothing truly outstanding about them. Hackman plays the same cocky villain that he's played many times before, and Hoffman's southern accent strays a bit too far into Dorothy Michaels territory at times. The true star of the film is John Cusack. Due to his laid-back acting style and his ability to play a convincing every-man, I feel that Cusack never gets the credit he deserves. His "boy next door" demeanor is perfect for the Nick Easter character. We know that Nick is more than he appears to be, but due to the fact that Cusack is so likable, we can't read Nick until the end. Rachel Weisz sheds her look from The Mummy films and is pretty good here. Runaway Jury reportedly cost around $60 million to make, but only brought in around $50 million at the domestic box-office. Maybe the marketing should have focused more on the exciting story and Cusasck than on Hackman and Hoffman. The DVD release should give audiences a chance to discover this entertaining film.

Runaway Jury comes to order on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in two separate versions, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The video presentation on this DVD is very impressive, as the image is very sharp and clear, showing virtually zero grain and no defects from the source print. The transfer sports good colors which show no signs of bleeding. Ringing artifact defects are kept to a minimum, as is the edge enhancement. The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 is also well-done, as it supplies clean and audible dialogue, coupled with effective stereo and surround sound effects. While the bulk of the audio comes from the front and center channels, the rear and subwoofer speakers are used creatively, allowing the musical cues and crowd noises to accentuate the film.

The DVD carries numerous extra features, but they are quite a mixed bag. Let me put it this way; if you're watching the film because of Hackman and Hoffman, then you'll love the special features. We start with an audio commentary from director Gary Fleder, who does a good job of speaking consistently throughout the film. Fleder divides his time talking his great cast, the story, the production, and shooting in New Orleans. The talk is never overly technical and is quite informative. Next are two deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary from Fleder. Both are very brief, but one does explain a "How did Nick do that?" plothole and should have been left in the film. With "Selected Scene Commentary", Dustin Hoffman comments on "The Washroom" scene (in which he meets Hackman's character), and Gene Hackman comments on his final scene in the film. This is done by placing interview footage with the stars side-by-side with the scene from the film. Hackman & Hoffman give more input with "Exploring the Scene", a 14-minute look at the scene in the film where their characters face off. (The scene was actually written and shot after principal photography has finished.) In "Off the Cuff: Hackman & Hoffman" (9 minutes), this pair discuss how they met in 1956 and what it's like to finally work together. John Cusack and Rachel Weisz get their turn to chat with "The Ensemble: Acting" (4 minutes), in which they comment on the other actors in Runaway Jury. "The Making of Runaway Jury" (12 minutes) is pretty standard fare, as it offers behind-the-scenes footage coupled with film clips an comments from the cast and crew. The most interesting aspect here is the interview with a real-life jury consultant. Director of Photography Robert Elswit discusses his craft in "Shadow & Light: Cinematography" (6 minutes), while Production Designer Nelson Coates shows us the inside of the courtroom set in the inappropriately titled "A Vision of New Orleans: Production Design." And finally, editor William Steinkamp talks about his working relationship with Gary Fleder in "Rhythm: The Craft of Editing" (5 minutes).

9 out of 10 Jackasses

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