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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Runaway Jury (2003)

"Is there even such a thing as a subjective jury, Mr. Fitch? Why should lawyers, companies, and people like you make all the profit?
- Nicholas Easter (John Cusack)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: February 15, 2004

Stars: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz
Other Stars: Jeremy Piven, Cliff Curtis, Jennifer Beals, Orlando Jones, Bruce McGill, Bruce Davison, Nora Dunn, Nick Searcy, Leland Orser, Dylan McDermott, Joanna Going, Luis Guzman
Director: Gary Fleder

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, violence, thematic elements
Run Time: 02h:26m:52s
Release Date: February 17, 2004
UPC: 024543100812
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+A- B

DVD Review

For the past decade, John Grisham has been something of a master novelist. His books have landed at the top of the best-seller list when released and he is somewhat inescapable. In a five-year span, at least six of his novels were made into feature films that have garnered either critical or commercial acclaim. Then, everything went quiet. His books still came out year after year but, after the release of the ill-conceived The Gingerbread Man, a film that while not based on a Grisham novel was crafted from an idea from the author, no other filmed versions were attempted.

Flash forward five years and we have the release of Runaway Jury, based on Grisham's novel originally published in 1996 that is now seeing the light of day in theaters after years of pre-production struggles. Everyone from Edward Norton, Will Smith, and Gwyneth Paltrow had been considered in casting at one point, and when all seemed to be lost, production was announced with John Cusack in the lead and things looked promising. The result is a twisting thriller that reminds us that Grisham is still at the top of his game.

When Nicholas Easter (Cusack) receives a jury summons for a trial in which a widow is suing a gun manufacturer after her husband was gunned down by an easily obtained weapon, he is as enthusiastic as most people summoned are. To the defense, Easter is a wild card, one professional jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Hackman) would rather see dismissed; opposing attorney Wendall Rohr (Hoffman) welcomes the idea of Easter as a juror in his high profile case. Unbeknownst to these seasoned professionals is that Easter has his own agenda: for a very high price extorted from whichever side is willing to pay it, Easter will spin the jury towards a verdict with the help of Marlee (Weisz), an attractive woman who negotiates on the outside.

The Runaway Jury ranks as my favorite Grisham novel to date and, by no surprise, it is also my favorite filmed version. Director Gary Fleder (who also turned another best seller into a fine film with Kiss the Girls) keeps the film moving with assured style and craftsmanship while using the setting of New Orleans to create masterful set pieces. There are some flaws in the script that may have helped move the film along to both a tidier and quicker conclusion. After the final twist is revealed and the audience understands everything as a whole, the numerous further revelations seem less interesting.

Like any adaptation from novel to screen, there are changes to the plot, most notably the central legal battle that propels the story. In the novel, the defense was in fact a large tobacco company, sued by a widow after her husband died of lung cancer. The script also includes new characters that help bend the plot while discarding subplots that offered a closer look at Easter's fellow jurors.

While the film has fun taking us behind-the-scenes to high-tech rooms where information on potential jurors is gathered and used, I dislike the way in which Fleder and his screenwriters showcase the defense as a sort of evil empire with unlimited funds while the plaintiff's legal team seem relegated to the stone age in comparison. To be honest, these scenes lessen the impact that the filmmakers were going for.

Much has been made of the fact that longtime friends Hoffman and Hackman are featured in the same film for the first time, but aside from a brief encounter in the courthouse mens' room, they exchange no dialogue. Their one sequence is, however, brilliant, and it is clear that each is near the top of his game, but in the end, the film belongs to Hackman. Speaking lines of dialogue that would sound ridiculous spoken by any other actor, Hackman makes them sound nearly shakespearean. Hoffman does a fine job playing the more subdued of the pair and his scenes offer immense pleasure. Both Cusack and Weisz display a natural amount of charm in their roles, especially Cusack, who is becoming one of the most reliable actors as his career continues.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, Runaway Jury offers one of the more disappointing transfers for a recent film that I have seen recently, thought the overall result is still of passing quality. The deep earth tones of New Orleans come off nicely with good depth and no bleeding, creating a solid color palette. That said, the film has a constant level of darkness throughout, even in scenes set outdoors, most notably early in the film when Easter leads the jurors out of the courthouse to a nearby restaurant. This darkness also hampers the detail and sharpness as the image is never quite as striking as it could be. On the positive side, there are no instances where edge enhancement is noticeable.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for Runaway Jury is soaked in ambiance. Scenes in the courtroom sound just as impressive as those with a great deal of action. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout with terrific depth; the left and right speakers do a fine job of reinforcing the musical score as well as numerous effects. Directionality is first rate so that the mix creates a very enveloping sound field. The surround speakers reinforce the musical score numerous times while also blending in conversations and other ambient sounds in offices and courtrooms.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Man on Fire
2 Deleted Scenes
6 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Gary Fleder
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Scen Specific commentary by Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman
Extras Review: A feature-length commentary track by director Gary Fleder leads off an impressive group of extra features. Fleder offers a abundant information, yet as the track goes on it becomes less enthralling. Fleder discusses assembling such a high-powered cast and comments on the changes that the studio wanted throughout production. I would have liked to have heard a tad more about the transition from page to screen, but what we get here is passable. Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman also provide commentary for their high-profile sequences. Each is very intelligent in his comments and worth a listen, but I wanted more, perhaps a feature-length track featuring both?

Two deleted sequences running roughly a minute each are featured and they each deal with Nick and Marlee and were rightly left out as they offer little to the overall effect of the picture.

Exploring the Scene: Hackman and Hoffman Together is a 15-minute look as the actors prepare before filming their key scene together and we see the creation of the sequence as it unfolded on the set. Off the Cuff: Hackman and Hoffman is a 10-minute piece focusing on the two accomplished actors' friendship, which goes back to the days when they were in school together.

Four more featurettes dealing with the acting, cinematography, editing, production design, and overall production are offered. I wished some of these, notably the cinematography portion, were longer. A trailer for the Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken film, Man on Fire, is featured in anamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

I greatly enjoyed Runaway Jury on nearly every level. The performances are flawless, the direction assured, and the script packs enough twists that, while some are evident, others hit with the force of a truck. Highly recommended.


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