Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DVD: Runaway Jury

Director: Gary Fleder
Starring: Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack
Year made: 2003

Courtroom dramas are notorious hit and miss affairs. As time has gone on, more elaborate attempts have been made by directors to put a spin on top of their twist. In principle, Runaway Jury has a good take on it – unfortunately, it is more spin than the filmmakers can handle.

Ever-charismatic Gene Hackman plays Rankin Fitch, an amoral jury consultant brought in to secure a verdict for a big bucks gun manufacturer, who is being sued by the widow of an office worker, gunned down with one of its firearms. Prosecuting her case is Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), an honest southern lawyer bound to his own code of justice and integrity. But then there’s Nick Easter (John Cusack), a jury member with an agenda. His girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) opens a bidding game with Fitch and Rohr for the verdict, while he plays the jury like a piano.

As the trial and the auction run their course everything gets a little breezy. There is very little development of the jury’s internal dynamics, the interaction between Hoffman and Hackman is completely underused and the ending is given away by the film’s pantomime tone.

As a disc, things are woven together much better, offering a very respectable collection of bonus features. Fleder’s commentary is a passionate one – here is a guy who clearly loves what he is doing. The selected scene commentaries from Hoffman and Hackman are pretty pointless, looking at the washroom and bar scenes respectively. By far and away the best features are ‘Exploring The Scene’ and ‘Off The Cuff’. The first of these focuses on Hoffman and Hackman’s one scene together, complete with some excellent behind-the-scenes footage. ‘Off The Cuff’ is an entertaining segment with the pair talking about their history, having been friends since the Fifties. They clearly share a great repartee and have something of The Odd Couple about them.

Five other featurettes prove to be merely filler on what is little more than a mediocre release. Verdict: guilt as charged.

Film: 2 stars
Extras: 3 stars

Special features:
• Audio commentary by director Fleder
• Selected scene commentary by stars Hackman and Hoffman
• Two deleted scenes with optional director commentary
• ‘Exploring The Scene: Hackman And Hoffman Together’ featurette (14 mins)
• ‘Off The Cuff: Hackman And Hoffman’ featurette (9 mins)
• ‘The Ensemble: Acting’ featurette (4 mins)
• ‘The Making Of Runaway Jury’ featurette (12 mins)
• ‘Shadow And Light: Cinematography’ featurette (6 mins)
• ‘A Vision Of New Orleans: Production Design’ featurette (5 mins)
• ‘Rhythm: The Craft Of Editing’ featurette (5 mins)

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This review first appeared in DVD Review issue #24