"Runaway Jury" has one of the finest casts in ages, both in the lead (John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman) and supporting (Rachel Weisz, Jeremy Piven, Luis Guzman and others) roles. Yet, somehow director Gary Fleder ("Don't Say A Word") found his way into helming the picture. Luckily, the director - whose work I haven't much liked in the past - mostly manages to keep the major cast from overwhelming the picture.
Based on the Grisham novel, John Cusack stars as Nick Easter, a New Orleans student/video game fan who is dismayed to find that he's been selected for jury duty in a lawsuit by a widow (Joanna Going) against a gun manufacturer. The best lawyers have been called in by both sides - Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) for the widow and Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison) for the manufacturer, with Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) - a major jury consultant - on the sidelines for the manufacturer.
Yet, what neither side is aware of is that one of the jurors are intending to swing the jury to the side of whichever side is going to pay more. With their hands forced, both sides react: Fitch, upset at the loss of control over "his" jury, turns the tides against the renegade. Rohr, on the other hand, has a moral struggle to contend with: does he pay for the win, or try for the win through honest law?
There's certainly some far-fetched aspects within "Runaway Jury", however, including scenes that look like something out of "Enemy of the State", where Hackman's character studies a bank of computer monitors to attempt to try and study jurors in the courtroom through hidden cameras. While certain screens show the proceedings, other give him information on their backgrounds, their weaknesses. While elements of Grisham's work occasionally are rather difficult to believe, the whole high-tech angle seemed to stand out among the film's several unbelievable elements.
While I discussed Fleder's ability to keep the cast from overwhelming the picture, there's some inconsistency in the ranks. Hackman is excellent - instead of simply the "evil manipulator", his dynamic performance turns the character into something more complex and interesting. Hoffman, on the other hand, is surprisingly toned-down, and really doesn't register as much as he could or should have. Cusack is good, but he could have been better and suggested more. Weisz, however, is a snappy highlight in a supporting role. While there are some good performances here, I wouldn't call anyone's work among their best efforts. No one is helped by the script's rather lackluster character development, either.
The courtroom scenes are surprisingly subdued and rather familiar, which is rather disappointing, considering the plot of jury tampering should have made for a more tense thriller. A chase scene and minor action occasionally liven up the volume of the film, but feel a bit out-of-place. Overall, this is a film that tries to coast on its cast. While they do lift the material up to a level that's better than it would have been, had the material been better, this would have been as good as it could have been.
VIDEO: "Runaway Jury" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Despite the excellent cinematography by Robert Elswit, this really isn't one of Fox's finer efforts in recent months. Detail is rather inconsistent, especially in some low-light sequences.
For a film that's only a few months old, I was surprised to see small specks on the print used during several scenes. Edge enhancement was also visible in a handful of scenes, as were some mild cases of compression artifacts. Colors were generally presented well, as there was only a couple of instances of slight smearing.
SOUND: "Runaway Jury" is presented by 20th Century Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio presentation was alright, as the rear speakers do the occasional work, including a couple of outdoor sequences where the sounds of the streets swirl around the listening space. Surrounds are otherwise not used particularly much, aside from maybe a little ambience here, a little reinforcement of the music there. Audio quality seemed fine, if not terribly noteworthy.
EXTRAS: Director Gary Fleder offers a feature-length commentary, discussing his experiences working with the actors and the studio. There's some noticably slow moments where Fleder goes over what's currently happening in the story, but despite the fact that I didn't enjoy the film, I did find some decent insight into the production. Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman offer audio commentary for one scene each, and both provide some good analysis of the scene and their acting experiences on the film.
A featurette on the scene between Hoffman and Hackman is included, with the general observation being that "Gee, we have these two together, we have to do a scene with the two of them", despite the fact that the scene feels as if it exists just to have that happen. Better is an interview segment where Hackman and Hoffman discuss their history together and talk about their prior experiences working together on other projects. There's some great stories throughout. A general "making of" featurette isn't that involving, but there are three fine featurettes on aspects of the production: cinematography, production design and editing. 2 deleted scenes and a sleek trailer for the upcoming Tony Scott-directed Denzel Washington thriller "Man on Fire" round out the DVD.
Final Thoughts: "Runaway Jury" offers a few good performances from a great cast and has some enjoyable moments scattered about, but the film lacks suspense and character development, not to mention it suffers from a handful of implausible scenes. Fox's DVD offers surprisingly average video quality, decent audio and a few interesting supplements. Rent it.