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  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 91.4)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Commentary - English: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Commentary - English
  • 2 Deleted scenes
  • 5 Documentaries

Runaway Jury

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 122 mins . M15+ . PAL


John Grisham novels are perfect airport fodder - the sort of diverting trash which last a flight or two, and which can then be discarded without a second thought.

They are thrilling enough to take time and place away while you're locked in your sky-high seat, and with enough diverting turns of plot to keep you on the edge of that confining seat until the very end.

Well, the same is true in the case of film versions of Grisham novels - such as The Pelican Brief and The Chamber. Thrilling, but disposable. But mostly because of outstanding casting, Runaway Jury is a more solid achievement. The excitement and sudden turns in plot are still there, but the achievement seems somehow more durable - this film will keep.

The story is about a civil suit in the States where the widow of a man murdered in a shooting spree asks idealistic lawyer Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to take the gun manufacturer to court for making such a Weapon of Mass Destruction available so easily to the general public.

Yes, the automatic sub-machine gun used in this murder is a real Weapon of Mass Destruction, sold on every street-corner in the States. And the gun lobby fears the worst, if this precedent-setting case goes the plaintiff's way.

Opposing Dustin is the shadowy figure of solicitor Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), an evil manipulator whose specialty is the art of jury selection - how to stack a jury to attain the result you want, first through selection, and then through cajolement, threats or plain old bribery.

But this time things are different. One of the jurors, Nick Easter (John Cusack) has wormed his way onto this jury to manipulate it for his own ends, in partnership with his Girl Friday on the outside, Marlee (Rachel Weisz). He claims he can deliver the jury to either side. He's asking a lot, but the stakes in this case are very high.

The plot differs from the book in one major essential - in the book, the baddies were the tobacco lobby, a rather more silent but just as profound a killer as the gun lobby. I think the change from tobacco to guns achieves heightened impact - and after all, dying through smoking is at least a self-volitional pursuit, compared to the random deaths the gun industry producers.

The themes are strong, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is its confrontation of acting generations. The younger generation is represented extremely well through Rachel Weisz and John Cusack (the latter being one of my very favourite actors), while it's fascinating to see two old pros, Dustin and Gene, battle it out in their very first screen encounter.

Direction and editing make the film's 122-minute length glide past effortlessly. This movie seems trim and taut, with very little excess baggage being carried. It's no masterpiece, but it is a solid entrant in the fun-trash American drama/thriller genre.


The widescreen anamorphic movie is pleasing for the most part. It is a trifle soft, with a slight lack of crisp definition in indoor scenes, particularly in the purposefully claustrophobic courtrooom and jury-room scenes. But there are no obvious flaws or transfer artefacts; this is a decent, workmanlike job.


The film depends on clarity of dialogue, and there are few special effects employed. For its purpose, the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround soundtrack is fine, with good depth married to fine clarity. People wanting room-shaking explosions every few seconds will be disappointed - but then, it's just not that sort of film, even if it is about the gun industry.


The DVD presentation is very strong in this area.

We start with an excellent optional director's commentary by Gary Fedler, which has all the trivia and fascinating but basically worthless information the greatest film geek could want. Well, "film geek" is how Fedler characterises himself, and DVDs do serve this class of people (myself included) exceedingly well.

After the commentary (best listened to after seeing the movie!), there are two deleted scenes, each one presented in decent widescreen condition. Neither add much that wasn't already in the movie, though of interest is an optional audio commentary from the director explaining why the scenes weren't included in the final cut.

Then there are seven short documentaries. The least-valuable is a standard Making Of exercise, aimed at the television market, and is really banal. This runs for 12 minutes.

Then there's a 14-minute feature, Exploring the Scene, discussing a key scene between Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, with commentary from both Gene and Dustin. This shows the very long history these two actors share, from their earliest days together back in 1956 at the Pasadena Playhouse acting school. It's fascinating stuff.

This is followed by a short (eight minutes) feature Off the Cuff, in which Gene and Dustin (or Dusty as Gene calls him) reminisce about their earliest days together. Slightly indulgent, but good fun.

The Ensemble: Acting is supposed to be about the ensemble cast of the movie, but really focuses on the younger generation of John Cusack and Rachel Weisz. It runs for just over four minutes and is passably interesting in a gushy actors' kind of way.

A six-minute feature Shadow of Light - Cinematography brings us cinematographer Robert Elswit discussing how he brought his vision to the screen. Then there is a five-minute Vision of New Orleans in which Production Designer Nelson Coates discusses which key features of the New Orleans architecture he translated into the movie.

Finally, The Craft of Editing brings us a five-minute rave from film-editor William Steinkamp about just how wonderful is director Gary Fleder. It's a very wonderful Hollywood tribute from Steinkamp to a man who one day might give him another job.


I enjoyed this film immensely, if only for the calibre of acting from such great pros as Gene Hackman and John Cusack. And even Dustin Hoffman, who is usually so earnest and laboured in his efforts, comes up trumps in this one. The extras make it worth adding to your library rather than just taking out for a night's rental.

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      And I quote...
    "A solid entrant in the fun-trash American drama/thriller genre."
    - Anthony Clarke
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