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In their first film together, screen legends Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman face off in this electrifying nail-biter about a ruthless jury consultant who'll do anything to win. With lives and millions of dollars at stake, the fixer plays a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a jury member and a mysterious woman who offer to "deliver" the verdict to the highest bidder.
Based on the bestseller by John Grisham, Runaway Jury is a slick thriller that's exciting enough to overcome the gaps in its plot. The ultimate target has been changed: Grisham's legal assault on the tobacco industry was switched to the hot-button issue of gun control (no doubt to avoid comparison to The Insider) in a riveting exposé of jury-tampering. Gene Hackman plays the ultra-cynical, utterly unscrupulous pawn of the gun-makers, using an expert staff and advanced electronics to hand-pick a New Orleans jury that will return a favorable verdict; Dustin Hoffman (making his first screen appearance with real-life former roommate Hackman) defends the grieving widow of a gun-shooting victim with idealistic zeal, while maverick juror John Cusack and accomplice Rachel Weisz play both ends against the middle in a personal quest to hold gun-makers accountable. It's riveting stuff, even when it's obvious that Grisham and director Gary Fleder have glossed over any details that would unravel the plot's intricate design. --Jeff Shannon
- Scene-specific commentary by Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary
- Five featurettes: Making of, acting, cinematography, production design, editing
- Theatrical trailer(s)
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RUNAWAY JURY registers high on the implausibility meter, but it's so well executed that it's no great inconvenience to play along. The story gives us a peek into what goes on behind the scenes of a news media-saturated trial. Specifically, in the area of jury consulting. Gene Hackman plays Rankin Fitch, preeminent jury expert and an uncanny profiler. Fitch's distinguished track record hinges on certain unsavory practices. Fitch's war room is graced with cutting edge surveillance technology and peopled with behavioral psychologists and strong-arm bully boys. Fitch frequently has his prospective jurors tailed. When called for, he resorts to blackmail and intimidation to cow a juror, to maybe even swing a juror. Rankin Fitch is slimy and has the moral backbone of an evil snail. But damn if he isn't sharp and wicked observant. He pretty much tells the prosecutor how to run his end of the trial.
Except Rankin Fitch is about to get played. A mysterious woman named Marlee (Rachel Weisz) offers to deliver a verdict to the highest bidder. Dustin Hoffman plays the (purposely) rumpled and folksy defense attorney Wendell Rohr, and Rohr, a play-by-the-rules kind of litigator, reacts to this offer with proper outrage. Fitch is more dismissive, calling Marlee "an amateur, a dilettante," until Marlee proves that she really can hijack the jury. Cue the pledge of allegiance and the lunching with the judge and poor Nora Dunn and so on...
On the surface, RUNAWAY JURY is a highly charged courtroom drama. But there are very fun elements of the con peppered in. The main conflict is the cat & mouse games that Fitch and Marlee engage in. Marlee is our prohibitive "protagonist," along with the perceptive Juror #9, Nick Easter (John Cusack), whom Fitch scornfully labels as a "song and dance man." But then Nick Easter begins to influence the panel. Now, there was a danger that viewers might have regarded these two, Marlee and Nick, as too cold and manipulative, except that there are enough humanizing moments in which they reveal vulnerability and remorse. You end up pulling for them. Even if their true motivations aren't made clear until the film's just about done. But Cusack and Weisz have always been very appealing actors. And, for this story to work, it's crucial that they appeal to you.
Powerhouse acting all over the motherfrogging place. It's a hell of a cast. You know a movie is just showing off when it's got folks like Jennifer Beals and Dylan McDermott walking in for, essentially, extended cameos. Gene Hackman, predatory gleam in his eye, steals all the scenes, even in his one and only talking scene with Dustin Hoffman (who's pretty good himself). The story gives you red herrings to sift thru. Bits of humor occasionally lighten the mood. But mostly you're riding on that suspenseful wave, wondering if Marlee and Nick can pull it off and cheering each time Rankin Fitch, that fink, would get egg on his face. We won't get into the fact that Marlee and Nick, by what they've set out to do, are thumbing their noses at the process of law. But they're likable rogues. Those are the sort who get away with murder.
The DVD's extras:
- Audio Commentary by director Gary Fleder
- 2 Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary
- Audio Commentaries on 2 Selected Scenes: Dustin Hoffman on "The Washroom" and Gene Hackman on "The Bar"
- "Exploring the Scene" - featurette that walks us thru the process and prep work that went into Hackman & Hoffman's dynamite washroom scene (00:13:59 minutes long)
- "Off the Cuff" - Hackman & Hoffman just shooting the breeze (00:08:56 minutes)
- "The Ensemble on Acting" - John Cusack and Rachel Weisz talk about their roles in the film (00:04:23)
- Making Of the film featurette (00:12:02)
- "Shadow & Light: Cinematography" (00:05:48)
- "A Vision of New Orleans: Production Design" (00:05:07)
- "Rhythm: the Craft of Editing" (00:05:04)
- and, for some reason, the trailer to MAN ON FIRE