When a man is killed in an office shooting-spree by a disgruntled co-worker, his widow brings suit against the gun company consortium she holds responsible for his death. Retaining courtly Southern lawyer and moral lightening rod Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to battle the corporate interests, her cause is threatened both by the gun company’s hiring of relentless professional jury “consultant” Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) and the shadowy manipulations of juror Nick Easter (John Cusack), who, along with accomplice Marlee (Rachel Weisz), appears to have quite a different personal agenda. An adaptation of a book by John Grisham (and his own Hollywood version of the law), Runaway Jury is at once a thriller, a courtroom drama and a sermon on the dangers of guns. As a thriller, it’s hardly exciting. As a courtroom drama, it feels terribly slight due to a lack of what might be called “judicial” tension or actual prolonged, substantial interaction inside the court. But it’s as a pro-gun control sermon that the film truly displays its maddening ineptitude. Runaway Jury is obsessed with adopting a position on the issue which will allow it to transform what is in essence a battle between cartoonishly opposed antagonists into a politically-charged morality play, yet the problem is not with the film’s ideological persuasion as much as with the thoughtless manner in which its position is articulated. While the viewer is wondering just why Easter and Marlee are attempting to sell the jury from the inside to the highest bidder (be it Fitch and the gun consortium or Rohr and his widowed client), the varying moral orientations of both sides are not only made simplistically clear, but the film itself can’t wait to tip its hand. The need to convince the audience that it shares the “progressive” perspective in terms of gun control is a driving force; eager to please, the film bypasses areas of gray in favor of stark swatches of black and white. As a near exception which proves the rule, when an overwhelmed Rohr is shown to be tempted by Easter and Marlee’s offer of swaying the jury and guaranteeing a victory for his nearly angelic client and her equally beatific, father-less son, the film completely abandons this subplot until a last minute resolution serves to reassure the audience that the heroic Rohr would never truly fall from grace. By abdicating responsibility for exploring the complications of its character and narrative, the film stacks the deck and assures itself a dishonest victory. A supremely smug experience, Runaway Jury begins as a thriller and ends as a tract that doesn’t even have the decency to be well made propaganda.
Because of the film's needless visual pyrotechnics, the image occasionally suffers as a result. The print can get hazy and edge enhancement is noticeable throughout, but skin tones are pleasant enough and blacks are solid. The Dolby Digital surround track, though, is surprisingly energetic and makes excellent use of all channels.
Gary Fleder is easy on the ears, even though he likes to say "santeria" a lot. His knowledge of popular American film is admirable and his energy is infectious enough that you may just forget that Runaway Jury isn't exactly the kind of film that deserves a director's commentary. Fleder also shares his thoughts on two deleted scenes. Next, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman provide select-scene commentaries for "The Washroom" and "The Bar," respectively. The dynamic duo share ample screen time on two featurettes, "Exploring the Scene" and "Off the Cuff." There's nothing of interest here, except for the fact that Hackman refers to Hoffman by the affectionate nickname "Dusty." More mindnumbingly titled, run-of-the-mill featurettes include: "The Ensemble: The Acting," "The Making of Runaway Jury," "Shadow and Light: Cinematography," "A Vision of New Orleans" and "Rhythm: The Craft of Editing." For all you Dakota Fanning fans, a trailer of Man on Fire has also been included.
Gene Shalit, Renee Shapiro, and Wireless Magazine (I know that's you Earl Dittman!) loved it, so it can't be that bad. Right?