Runaway Jury: Special Edition (2003)

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Released 21-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Gary Fleder (Director)
Deleted Scenes-2, With Optional Director Commentary
Featurette-Selected Scenes (2) with Commentary (Hoffman/Hackman)
Featurette-Exploring The Scene: Hackman & Hoffman Together
Featurette-Off The Cuff: Hackman & Hoffman
Featurette-The Ensemble: Acting
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Shadow & Light: Cinematography
Featurette-A Vision Of New Orleans: Production Design
Featurette-Rhythm: The Craft Of Editing
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 122:16
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (91:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gary Fleder
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring John Cusack
Gene Hackman
Dustin Hoffman
Rachel Weisz
Bruce Davison
Bruce McGill
Jeremy Piven
Nick Searcy
Stanley Anderson
Cliff Curtis
Nestor Serrano
Leland Orser
Jennifer Beals
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Christopher Young


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Danish
Icelandic
Swedish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   "Trials are too important to be left up to juries."

    After a brief period in a rental window, the Gary Fleder directed Runaway Jury has now been released as a retail version with host of bonus material included that thankfully puts it on a par with the Region 1 version. The review of the rental release can be read here. Since I reviewed the original disc, I have merely copied much of the plot synopsis from that original review, so you might want to move straight to the transfer and extras sections if you are already familiar with the rental only review.

    It must be one of the great filmmaking conundrums. Just why are the best selling novels of former lawyer turned author John Grisham so enormously popular, selling by the millions, yet when the same stories are translated to the screen, more often than not the results are less than fulfilling? Consider examples such as The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, or The Chamber.  These are all films, which if not for the Grisham tag on the poster, would probably have sunk without a trace into the sea of mediocre crime/lawyer thrillers. The only efforts that I consider to have any redeeming qualities are two of his earliest novels, The Firm, with Tom Cruise and A Time To Kill with Matthew McConaughey, with the former even undergoing a massive rewrite of the climax to make it more filmable and exciting. Just why some of these adaptations have worked when most have failed is anyone's guess. Apparently, several years ago, the lack of a successful film translation saw Grisham halt the sale of the film rights to his books and after 1997's disappointing The Rainmaker, it would be more than five years before another Grisham lawyer novel would make the transition to the screen.

    It has been a long wait, but finally the time has arrived for a new Grisham novel to make its way to the screen. For my mind, Runaway Jury is certainly one of the more entertaining and readable of all the Grisham novels. It is in fact the only one I have read more than once (and I have read them all). It has got a tight and unique story, with a decent twist at the end. But it is the first half that I found to be the most intriguing - and it all revolves around the science that is jury selection.

    The story all centres around a huge civil case. In this instance it is a case brought by a grieving widow against the manufacturer of a semi-automatic handgun that was used in a mass slaying which claimed the life of her husband. This could be a landmark case, since no person has ever brought a case against the gun industry and won. What hope do they have this time? Especially when the defence has the ultra-experienced and win-at-all costs jury expert Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) on their side.

    Well this time it is going to be different. The jury has been hijacked from the inside. A young man and woman with a hidden agenda have managed to effectively rig the jury. By gaining selection on the twelve person panel, the smooth and persuasive Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), with the aid of his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), is plotting on steering the jury towards the right decision. The right decision in this case simply means which one of the two sides will be willing to hand over the most cash. The two young idealists must battle the plaintiff's lawyer on one side, the honourable and decent Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), a man with high ideals and buckets of integrity, and someone who only begrudgingly plays along with this caper. On the other side is Rankin Fitch, an evil shyster who cares little for the common man and even less for the grieving widow of a murder victim. He will stop at nothing to deliver a not guilty verdict for his client and has almost unlimited cash to throw around to ensure the verdict he wants.

    Just like the novel, from the opening scenes this film cracks along at a fair pace as the jury selection process is examined and turned into an almost scientific procedure - overweight, single women make great defence jurors, as do ex-marines, because both are tight-fisted and unsympathetic. Pick the right jury and the battle is as good as won is both sides' motto. But with the integrity of the jury compromised, the battle is on from both inside and outside to deliver a verdict.

    The big plus here is the great cast that has been assembled. They keep the film ticking along quite nicely, with John Cusack putting in another flawless performance and the first ever on-screen encounter between stalwarts Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman being worth the price of a rental alone. Unfortunately, there are two elements of this film which let it down the most and again it is the need to differ from Grisham's source material which sees me grumbling. Firstly, the court case in the book was against the tobacco industry, just like in The Insider. All the elements of dirty tricks and foul play seemed right at home in the tobacco industry, and here it seems just a little too far fetched to be bringing a claim against a gun company. I mean it's a little idealistic on my part, but guns don't kill people - people kill people, whereas cigarettes do kill people - and there's no arguments there. Secondly the ending has lost the delicious twist from the novel, which the first time around you will certainly not see coming until the last couple of pages. The climax in the film is signposted a good 15 minutes from the end and the whole thing basically runs out of steam from that point on.

    Nonetheless, this is still a slick production, with a great cast and a solid screenplay that will not disappoint for an evening's entertainment. Fans of any of the John Grisham adapted films will most certainly want to get a hold of this disc, as it is easily in the top three adaptations of the best-selling author's material.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is offered in exactly the same aspect ratio as it was shown theatrically - 2.35:1. It is also 16x9 enhanced.

    As mentioned in the review of the rental disc, I was a little disappointed with the sharpness and detail level on offer there, and this transfer is again the same. The whole thing has just the slightest tweak of softness and there is a little edge enhancement noticeable in several of the lower lit interior shots, especially in Nicholas Easter's apartment. Shadow detail also borders on being problematic as many of the same shots in the apartment are in very poor light. I suggest making sure the room is sufficiently darkened before viewing. There is virtually no grain and no low level noise. It's not a poor transfer by any means, just a slightly less than perfect one.

    The colours are fairly stock standard for the drab courtroom drama style of film. Blacks are deep and solid, and skin tones perfectly natural.

    Compression artefacts are absent and there is no annoying shimmer or aliasing on any surface. Film artefacts are mostly absent.

    English for the Hearing Impaired are the only flavour of subtitles available, and after sampling these extensively I found them mostly accurate.

    This is a dual layered disc which is formatted RSDL. The layer change is in exactly the same position as the rental disc and occurs at 91:33. It is not what you would call perfect placement, as Gene Hackman's character pauses noticeably in mid stride just before a scene transition.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We gain an additional soundtrack for this retail version. The original English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is joined by an English Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary soundtrack, the latter of which is reviewed in the extras section. The main feature film track is a pretty decent effort, offering a wide soundstage, albeit with only a little surround channel use, but it is the width of the dynamic range that is the most impressive element of this soundtrack. Despite being a dialogue focused film, the level of bass reached on occasion is quite impressive.

    Dialogue levels are excellent and there are no audio sync problems. Unlike many of the previous John Grisham adaptations where the southern American accent and drawl dominates to the point of needing some interpretation, this effort is far milder on the ears.

    Christopher Young's score is fairly typical of the courtroom thriller.

    There is only a little surround use, but it really isn't the type of film to benefit from an over-the-top enveloping experience. The odd streetscape and outside noise are pretty much all you are likely to hear from the rears.

    The subwoofer crops up on occasion to provide some deep ominous tones, especially whenever Gene Hackman's character of Rankin Fitch appears on screen.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

Main Menu Audio

Audio Commentary - Gary Fleder (Director)

    A solid, albeit slightly dry and often film-school style technical commentary from director Gary Fleder. He concentrates mostly on things like composition, lighting, exposition, editing, a couple of problematic scenes and the like. Unfortunately there is no mention of why the story was changed from tobacco to guns.

Deleted Scenes

    Two deleted scenes are available, with a total running time of just 1:47. Both are from scenes when the jury is sequestered at the motel. While the finished quality of the scenes is rather ordinary, they at least have an optional commentary from the director, who explains the reason for their removal from the film.

Featurette - Selected Scene Commentary

    Two scenes are available to view with a commentary from actors Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman (they appear in a small box above the widescreen image). Hackman's scene is one of the last in the film, where Rankin Fitch is in the bar and runs for 2:24. Hoffman's contribution is the washroom scene where he shared the stage with Hackman for the first time. His commentary runs for 3:41.

Featurette - Exploring The Scene (Hoffman and Hackman)

    This is a 14:16 (which I must admit is probably twice the length it really needs to be) featurette that focuses on the scene between Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman in the washroom. There is significant behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with both actors about this scene, which was their first ever shared moment on screen together.

Featurette - Off The Cuff

    Another featurette dedicated to the shared screen moments of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, but this one just features the two screen legends sitting side by side sharing anecdotes about their careers. Apparently they are old friends from way back and have some amusing stories to tell. This is quite candid and entertaining. Worth a look. Runs for 8:32.

Featurette - The Ensemble: Acting

    A fairly brief featurette that is dedicated to the other members of the cast, though it mainly focuses on John Cusack and Rachel Weisz. Not a whole lot of information is provided here. Runs for just 4:22.

Featurette-Making Of

    While this is a true making of, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew, the usual self-congratulatory angle seems to crop up far too often. I would have also liked to know a bit more about the Grisham novel to screenplay adaptation process. Runs for just 12:00 minutes.

Featurette - Shadow and Light (Cinematography)

    A 5:47 featurette dedicated to the director of photography Robert Elswit and the methods he employed in lighting the various actors, based on what mood the director was hoping to achieve.

Featurette - A Vision Of New Orleans: Production Design

    This is a 5:05 featurette dedicated to the production design of the film in general, but mostly focussing on the design and construction of the elaborate court room used in the film. Hosted by production designer Nelson Coates, this is a rather interesting look at just how the incredibly complex court room set can be pulled apart and changed around to facilitate filming.

Featurette - Rhythm: The Craft Of Editing

    Runaway Jury is a rather tightly edited film, and this 5:03 featurette is dedicated to the role that editor Bill Steinkamp played in the look of the final product.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    A much better comparison between the Region 1 and Region 4 discs is now possible with this Special Edition disc.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 disc misses out on:

    Unless the French or Spanish soundtracks are your thing, you are best sticking with the local product.

Summary

    The cast is the glue that holds this tale together. John Cusack is watchable in just about anything these days, and the tantalising prospect of seeing old-timers like Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman going head-to-head in a scene for the first time is worth the price of a rental alone. As a fan of Grisham work's I really just wish they had left the story alone and retained the focus of the trial on the big tobacco industry and kept the twist at the end. Despite these misgivings, I would easily rate Runaway Jury as one of the top three Grisham adaptations made to date.

    The video transfer is a little softer than I would have liked, though it is still mostly blemish free.

    The audio retains much of the front channel focus of a dialogue based film, but does offer some nice bass response at times.

    The extras are numerous and of pretty reasonable quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
The change from tobacco to guns -