Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, James Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Bruce Davison
MPAA Rating: (for violence, sexual content and language)
Running Time: 1:55
Release Date: 4/5/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Of all types of movies, the ones that are hardest to review are those that serve their purpose, for the most part have nothing wrong with them, and are ultimately forgettable. High Crimes is exactly that kind of movie. As I sat watching it, nothing ever really out stood as being either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. As a genre film, itís serviceable; it has an interesting story with a few twists here and there and fine performances. Itís nothing special but does provide a simple escape for anyone interested in these kinds of stories. All of this is relevant to the majority of the movieís running time, but in the final fifteen minutes or so, it manages to fall apart. I hate to mention the existence of a huge surprise twist to conclude the movie, but there is one here. Itís so ineptly established, so poorly executed, that you canít help but feel completed cheated.
Claire Kubick (Ashley Judd) is a high-powered defense attorney. Sheís happily married to and trying to have a child with her husband Tom (Jim Caviezel). Her life seems to be going just fine (doesnít it always, though?), until her husband is arrested in front of her by FBI agents. Claire discovers that her husbandís name is actually Ronald Chapman, and that he has been evading authorities for years. He was wanted for and is about to be tried for the murder of a group of people in a small village as a result of his mission. Ron pleads to his wife that he is innocent, and since the military have assigned him a rookie attorney, she decides to take up her husbandís cause. She finds, however, that military law is like nothing she has encountered. To even the odds, Claire seeks the assistance of Charles Grimes (Morgan Freeman), a former military attorney known for his unconventional approach and a recovering alcoholic who has now taken up a private practice. Even with his help, though, Claire is not ready to handle the actions of those who want to see Ron punished.
Thereís nothing completely original or unique about High Crimes. It serves as a typical, formulaic example of a relatively rare, but still somehow very prominent, genre. Part of the reason the movie has few disagreeable elements is because the material is so familiar and accomplishes what itís trying to do well enough. So instead of concentrating on these factors, we begin looking for anything that makes it special. If there is anything that stands out, it would be the two lead performances. A good part Ashley Juddís career has been spent playing the strong female figure, and thereís a reason for it. She does it very well. Morgan Freeman has proven time and again that he can lend integrity to even the slightest material, and in his role here, he injects the movie with a bit of humanity. A lot could be made of the fact that the two worked together on the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls, but thereís no reason to do so except to note that their scenes together are the standout moments in the movie.
The plot twists and turns, enemies become friends and vice versa, and it manages to entertain. But as is the case with so many recent movies, thereís a need for the ultimate twistóthat all-too-shocking revelation at the end that turns everything on its head. While there have been many noteworthy recent examples of how to successfully pull this device off, High Crimes just about comes to a standstill when it becomes clear that this is direction the movie is taking. The main problem is that the surprise is a bit too obvious. There are very few ways in which this story could turn out. Said clearly, a surprise must take us by surprise. Thereís a formula for how to do this. The most important element of the formula is that there must be a false climax, so that the audience thinks everything is over and done with. The movie attempts to make one scene the fake ending with a huge orchestral swell on the soundtrack and a giant reaction from the participants, but the event itself is so anticlimactic, thereís no doubt that the movie still has one more thing in store for us. If you havenít figured out what it is, this scene insures that you will.
High Crimes really is a neutral movie. It presents nothing special and, until the final act, nothing overtly disagreeable. Its indulgence into formula is never tedious, but it certainly doesnít help. Itís a fairly entertaining entry into the genre but offers nothing too intriguing beyond that.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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