Retro Review: High Crimes

You take a little “Double Jeopardy”, sprinkle a little “Rules of Engagement” and mix thoroughly with “Jagged Edge” and you come pretty close to the new courtroom thriller “High Crimes”.

Ashley Judd re-teams with her “Kiss the Girls” co-star Morgan Freeman for “High Crimes”. Judd plays Claire Kubik, who is a high-class attorney who seems to be living the perfect life until one day Don Kubik (Jim Caviezel), Claire’s husband is revealed as a “military fugitive” named Ron Chapman.

Claire learns that her husband is being charged with the “high crime” of murder. Claire becomes overwhelmed with the charges and tries to find a way to fight the military.

Claire’s younger sister Jackie (Amanda Peet) finds a way back into her sister’s life as sort of a support but as well as a hindrance.

Claire puts her faith in an “on-again-off-again” drunk Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) who when sober is also brilliant military attorney.

Can Charlie stay sober long enough to save Claire from watching her husband die? Why are all brilliant on-screen attorneys drunks?

“High Crimes” is a pretty well laid out as thrillers go. Its story chugs along and all the right angles for suspense are thrown at you. You enjoy the movie for its mystery as the whole “military corruption” angle is once more played out on screen.

Director Carl Franklin is a great director at setting tone and texture. Franklin’s quiet scenes are often the most interesting of his films. Franklin also likes long scenery pans as he lets the music create the tension. If you look back at his staple films “One False Move” and “Devil and a Blue Dress”, Franklin knows how to map out a mystery and develop a passionate thriller.

In “High Crimes”, Franklin seems to lose the film about half way through because this kind of thriller needs razor-sharp tension and quick editing to overcome its formulaic plot.

The film needed to be handled a lot like Morgan Freeman’s last thriller “Along Came a Spider”. Franklin needed a more multi-layered and character-driven storyline in the script to really soar with this picture.

For most of the film, I was highly complimenting it by calling it “More Good Men” except unlike the film “A Few Good Men” the protagonist doesn’t ever get to take down the military commander when he is on the hot seat. There is no final courtroom confrontation between the general (Bruce Davison) and the attorney (Judd) and that made me scream fowl. The way the trial ends really made me angry. I was at least expecting a “Law & Order” or “Practice” type conclusion from this film but I got zilch.

I have always loved Ashley Judd as an actress and she continues to grow as one. I just wish Hollywood would give her meatier roles. She does do a great job in “High Crimes” but her strength and anger in the role reminded me heavily of “Double Jeopardy”.

Morgan Freeman is also very strong as Grimes except that Tommy Lee Jones did the role at least 50% better in “Rules of Engagement”. I love Freeman and think he is one of the best character actors working today. But this role was beneath his ability. I wish Freeman would do some sort of heavy “no-holds-barred” drama so he could win the Oscar that he deserves.

Amanda Peet is a better actress than she is being type-casted as. She plays the same kind of ditzy background girl as she did in “Whole Nine Yards” and “Saving Silverman”. This girl really needs to go into indie flicks.

The problem with the film is that the pacing is off and the ending will make you scream and cry fowl but the performances are better than this formula and clichéd film.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: High Crimes

  1. The strength of this film is in the pacing and the seamless way in which it unfolds. The issues it raises about the United States’s involvement in El Salvador provide an interesting, though not fully developed, frame. Highly enjoyable, though not perfect, this film is a good way to spend two hours with a bowl of popcorn at hand.

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