Runaway Jury (2003)
30th May 2004
Wendall Rohr is an attorney who believes wholeheartedly in the morality of his latest case. However, it could be a tricky case to win, and one with amazing repercussions if he did. For Wendall Rohr is representing a young widow who is bringing a civil suit against a gun manufacturer who made the semi-automatic weapon which was used by a disgruntled day-trader to kill his co-workers - including her husband. But guns are big business in America and the multi-billion dollar industry has no intention of sitting back and taking it on the chin. And Rohr knows it.
Rohr's nemesis in the case is not the defence attorney, he could take him on without breaking out into a sweat, but the brilliant Rankin Fitch. Fitch is a ruthless and extremely powerful jury consultant who has all but guaranteed to win the case for the powerful gun industry. But like everything in life, it will come at a cost. But for their money Fitch and his staff use all the latest high-tech surveillance, wire-tapping and background checks to help decide on which jurors will be right for their cause. And once all the information on the possible jurors has gathered they can then point the defence team into picking sympathetic jury and then work on manipulating the outcome.
But what Fitch didn't count on was wildcard juror Nicholas Easter. During Fitch's background checks he didn't find out too much information on the mysterious Easter. Fitch suspects something is not right and as a result decides to direct the defence attorney to reject him as a jury member. And on the front of it Easter is a seemingly reluctant member of the jury, but after making some comments to the judge about the hassles of being on a jury he quickly finds himself on board. But his ploy was a deliberate one as in reality he is working with the mysterious Marlee to fix the outcome of the trial, for a price.
Whilst the colours are quite soft, with a definite NTSC to PAL conversion tinge to them, the picture is bright and colourful with a good level of detail throughout. And with the majority of the film taking place in a darkened courtroom it's important that the picture quality holds up throughout. Fortunately it does, and the picture remains impressively sharp for the entire duration with the many dark and dimly limit scenes handled with ease. And in situations like this grain and artifacting could also be a major problem. But again, it is all handled with ease with no apparent signs of either problem. Put this together with a transfer which is free from dust scratches or other picture imperfections and you have a good all round performance.
With the film being based in a courtroom there is not really much scope for a soundtrack which is bursting at the seams with ground shaking effects. Never the less, the Dolby Digital 5.1 448Kbps is more than capable and offers some clear and precise dialogue with the (very) occasional and effective use of the surround channels for the ambient effects. Whilst the opening five minutes of the film may be loud, plus containing the most impressive of the surround effects, once this is out of the way a comfortable listening level can then be attained without any further need to adjust the volume level. It's nothing special, but it's certainly more than suitable for a film of this nature.
The menu system is scored with a static set of menus. However, once a menu option is selected a cut scene from the film will appear before the next menu is displayed. Although the menu system is starting to look rather dated (a cheap and cheerful standard for cost perhaps?) the main menu and its sub menus are still reasonably designed and arranged. However, the size and colouration of the menu highlight bar may cause the unwary, or impatient, viewer to miss some of the additional menus and extras.
The film is accompanied by a rather interesting audio commentary track from director Gary Fleder or if you'd rather watch the film you can also view his comments as an additional subtitle track. The casual viewer may not be too interested in what he has to say, but fans of the more technical side of filmmaking will enjoy his rambling as well as learning some interesting snippets of information about the cast, crew and film (you'll slap yourself in the face when you realise you never noticed certain plot threads). It's just a pity than none of the cast members had any input into the main commentary, although judging by the commentaries from Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz on Confidence, I suspect that a full length commentary wouldn't have been that interesting. However, saying that, both Hoffman and Hackman do provide a separate audio commentary on a number of their scenes.
One thing the various extras reveal is that for all of the films that Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman have done, Runaway Jury is the first film they have appeared in together. Although they openly admitted to not being particularly phased by their pairing, I did get the impression that the only thing they feared was being upstaged by each other. Perhaps this resulted in the particularly good, and scene stealing, performances from both actors. And with the good guy/bad guy act in full flow it was only natural for people to compare their performances to Robert De Niro's and Al Pacino's equally impressive roles in Heat.
However, there's no doubt that the producers relished their pairing (and to be honest it's they are perfect for their parts) as no less than three of the featurettes concentrate on their friendship, opinions and the filming of a seven minute dialogue intensive scene. Not only do these featurettes show how professional they are, but just how well they get on together. And as with most films there was the scope for both men to use their "star status" to go about altering the script to suit themselves. Fortunately, these featurettes seem to imply that this was not the case. However, these extras do seem to forget that the film stared the equally able John Cusack and Rachel Weisz. They do get a mention, and even a brief interview, but this is most definitely the Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman show.
Other extras also include two poor quality and time coded deleted scenes with optional commentary. Neither scene is particularly interesting, nor do they offer anything new to the storyline. In fact, I would have to place them amongst some of the most pointless deleted scenes ever. Fortunately, the remaining featurettes on the Editing, Location, Cinematography and set design are absolute crackers. Along with the main Audio Commentary true fans of filmmaking are going to be in their element with the fascinating amount of information on offer. The set design is of particular interest, especially since it is a complete set. It is so realistic and well built that I actually thought the whole saga was filmed in a real courtroom. Impressive stuff.
Whilst doing some research for the Runaway Jury review I quickly learnt that it was based on a John Grisham novel (although if I'd paid more attention to the opening credits I would have soon noticed this fact). And with this nugget of information I soon realised it did indeed have that classic Grisham feel to it, even though the screen play is completely different to the original book. In the book the court case has been brought against a tobacco giant whilst the film adaptation concentrates on the gun industry. I suppose this was changed due to recent gun violence and the fact that The Insider has already successfully covered the goings on in the tobacco industry.
But unlike some of his other screen adaptations, such as the excellent The Firm, it didn't really have that "wammo" factor which turned the film into something truly special. Grisham (or the screen writer at least) obviously had a political axe to grind about gun violence in America and by doing so he got a little bit too carried away from his classic novels of old. Mind you, after all of the fuss and performance over Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine it was even braver for Twentieth Century Fox to bring this hot potato of a debate to the screen. Did they want to send a message to the establishment too?
Still, there's no doubting that this film has plenty of class, especially with both Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman on top form, and it's a reasonably good and involving thriller. However, Runaway Jury has the potential of being one of those films that could sit idly on your shelf gathering dust. But this doesn't mean you should avoid this film altogether as the host of top quality extras really does bump up the value of this package by a massive amount. If anything, they are actually better than the entire film.
Definitely a disc worth investigating, even if it's just a rental.
- Exploring the Scene Featurette
- Off the Cuff Featurette
- The Ensemble Featurette
- The Making of Runaway Jury Featurette
- Shadow and Light Featurette
- A Vision of New Orleans Featurette
- Rhythm – The Craft of Editing Featurette