Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven, Nick Searcy
Director: Gary Fleder
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2004

"Thirty years in the trenches have taught me this…EVERYONE has a secret they don't want you to find."

Film ***1/2

Having just viewed the dreadful In the Cut, it was good feeling to watch a movie that knows how to actually deliver suspense instead of just being a cheap tease of one, and Runaway Jury is just such a movie.

The novels by John Grisham make for good suspense readings. When transferred to the silver screen, the intense legal thrillers hold up sometimes if not all the time. I'm pleased to note that Runaway Jury is one of the better Grisham movie adaptations. With the privilege of having a top flight star studded cast to back it up, the movie serves not only as a richly plotted thriller, but it even offers as a trip into a certain area regarding the legal system that has never been as revealing…that of jury consulting, or should we say…jury tampering.

Set in New Orleans, the movie centers on a very high profile court case involving a grieving wife's lawsuit against a major gun manufacturer, following the fatal shooting of her husband, a city stock broker who was murdered in an office massacre. The weapon involved in the murder was easily obtained by the culprit. Representing the widow is the justice seeking Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), while the defense has obtained that of Durwood Cable (Bruce Davison).

Though the two lawyers are on top of their game, they are barely even controlling the maneuvering of the case. That duty is in the hands of cold-blooded jury consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman). Fitch, a veteran of the legal system who could very much be considered a one man surveillance system, has been hired by the head of the gun manufacturer to put together a jury that would seem very much favored by the defended company. In a most fascinating sequence, Fitch observes through a monitor the faces of the very people he will select for jury duty, and simultaneously gains access to dirty little secrets concerning each of the twelve candidates.

Of the people summoned to provide civic duty, the one that seems the most reluctant is Nick Easter (John Cusack). Nick, an employee at a video game store, attempts to talk his way out of jury duty during deliberation by explaining to the judge that he has to participate in a Madden game tournament. After the judge responds by explaining the importance of his civil duties, a bewildered Fitch is pressured to accept him.

It's quite difficult to explain the plot details of Runaway Jury without giving away some crucial details, so needless to say I won't reveal much more about the plot development. As the twists and turns develop, a woman calling herself Marlee (Rachel Weisz) turns up. She approaches both the defense and prosecution with an offer for the verdict, in the form of ten million dollars. It goes without saying that both sides are baffled by the offer, but the ruthless Fitch is insulted by it, and initiates a personal game of cat and mouse with the mysterious woman.

Enjoying a thriller like Runaway Jury may require an instance or two of suspension of disbelief. Like most Grisham stories, this is essentially a legal thriller in an over the top mode. At the same time, Jury escalates into a fireball of a suspense thriller and gets better and better with every additional scene. And there is a certain plot revelation near the end of the story that won't exactly blow your socks off, but nevertheless comes across as a most convincing and satisfying conclusion.

Prior to watching the movie, I had completely ignored the fact that Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman were appearing in their first movie together. Though the two have known each ever since getting into the business, they've never acted opposite another, and Runaway Jury has the two facing off in a wonderfully written confrontation. Watching it, you get the sense that they are having a blast working off one another, especially Hackman, who's completely having a blast playing such a scoundrel.

As part of my summation, I will tell you this; Runaway Jury is pure and simple all of the good ingredients of a successful suspense thriller. Terrifically acted by the cast, and tightly directed by Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word), this is one of the better thrilling entertainments of the past year.

BONUS TRIVIA: That's Dylan McDermott, of Wonderland and TV's The Practice, in the riveting opening segment of the movie.

Video ****

Fox prevails yet again with another stunning transfer of a disc. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is superb in the way it enhances the unique feel and look of the New Orleans setting. Image quality is that of the utmost sharpness and clarity, and colors are as natural as always. It goes without saying that any sort of picture flaws are a hundred percent spared.

Audio ***1/2

The sharp 5.1 mix proves that Fox can master a movie of any genre. The movie does have its occasional jolts of action and suspense, as in the opening as well as a few scenes later in the movie involving vicious attacks on the protagonists. In addition, music and dialogue are handled with absolute flawlessness, and the presentation is given a good level of dynamic range.

Features ****

Fox has handled this disc with their usual sense of excellence. Included is a full length commentary by director Gary Fleder and scene specific commentary by Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman. Also featured are deleted scenes with commentary, 5 featurettes (Acting, making-of, cinematography, production design and editing). There's even a short piece called "Off the Cut" with Hackman and Hoffman going over what went into developing their big scene. Lastly, there's a trailer for the upcoming Denzel Washington release, Man on Fire.


The verdict is in: Runaway Jury is as good and suspense-filled as a terrifically made thriller can get. The stellar cast and good directing blend in to make one good legal suspense yarn.

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