I’m always slightly alarmed when I see a new film and find that John Cusack is no longer the gawky, awkward teen I remember in Say Anything. In Runaway Jury, Cusack is anything but gawky in a fast-paced thriller about jury tampering. In fact, Cusack, the proverbial nice guy,” is Nicholas Easter, a mysterious class clown that’s also one of Runaway Jury’s stealthiest manipulators.
Runaway Jury is a courtroom drama full of the kind of suspense, sudden plot twists and turns that make for a fun ride. Gun companies are on trial after a scary shooting kills a loving father (Dylan McDermott) in the workplace. As the trial proceeds, an all-star group of very diverse jurors — look for appearances by Jennifer Beals and Luis Guzman — is chosen. That’s when the real intrigue begins.
Heavy hitter Gene Hackman is Rankin Fitch, leader of a team uncovers the deepest, darkest secrets of the jury to blackmail jurors to vote the gun company’s way. Hackman’s sly devil is a sharp contrast to Dustin Hoffman’s noble litigator, Wendell Rohr. Dustin is a prosecutor trying to play it straight while psychoanalyzing the rotten roughnecks trying to destroy his case.
Cusack and Rachel Weisz are startlingly slick tag team planning to sell the jury’s vote for a cool $10 million. Weisz is the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the operation while Cusack sits tight with his ear to the ground as a double-crossing juror. Action sequences with Weisz prove she’s the not only the brains behind the brawn. Her kick-ass scenes establish her as a force to be reckoned with. They are viciously violent in a film that is otherwise an intellectual cat and mouse game.
The conspiracy behind jury selection is fascinating. The final confrontation between Hackman and Hoffman is even better. The breakneck pace coupled with a tangled web of deceit make for a shocking ending.
Runaway Jury lures you into a sense of security, leading you to believe you’re in on the game when in fact, you’re not. It’s all one big on-screen hustle that leads to an off-screen hoodwink the audience doesn’t realize until the very end. And hell, I loved being swindled!
The DVD offers features that make no qualms about showcasing the real stars of this film, Hackman and Hoffman. Besides scene-specific commentary by the dynamic duo, there is a featurette devoted to the exploring their final scene together. And though the other stars of the film come together to share their own views about the Runaway Jury, it is easy to see they were overwhelmed by the prospect of working with powerhouses like Hackman and Hoffman.