High Crimes

“High Crimes” may be based on the popular novel by Joseph Finder, but the film is hardly a page turner. Directed with style but little conviction by Carl Franklin, “High Crimes” has all of the cohesiveness of a ransom note constructed from cut out newspaper headlines.

Sybil was less conflicted than the screenplay by Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley, which stretches credibility farther than the elastic band in Louie Anderson’s pants. We’re asked to forgive so much that I felt I was sitting in a confessional at church rather than a movie theater.

“High Crimes” is a hybrid of several genres, none of which are realized with the satisfaction of those that came before. The film starts off as a romantic-drama, segues into a suspense-thriller, and then a military courtroom drama. There are enough red herrings, shadowy figures, close calls and scare tactics to fill several other films, where they would probably get more respect than here.

No stone or cliché is left unturned in “High Crimes,” which stars Ashley Judd as spunky, on-her- game San Francisco lawyer Claire Kubik. Life couldn’t be better for Claire. She shares a comfortable Marin County home with her wonderful husband Tom (Jim Caviezel). As a defense attorney, Claire is well regarded and on track to become a partner in her firm. Claire and Tom are also trying to expand their picture perfect life by having a baby

It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to predict that their perfect little life will come crashing down faster than Enron stock. After their home is broken into, a routine fingerprint check reveals that Tom is actually a former military operative named Ron Chapman, who has been on the run for 12 years after being accused of murdering civilians during a botched El Salvador mission.

Tom admits his deception to Claire, and that he is being framed by his former commanding officers. After Claire composes herself, she decides to represent her husband in military court after learning that he’s been assigned a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer who has never won a case. When the stakes escalate, Claire turns to former military attorney Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) for assistance. A recovering alcoholic, Charlie accepts the case because he has a personal score to settle.

It’s not long before pivotal witnesses start dying and Claire finds herself in constant danger. Director Franklin does manage to wangle a modicum of suspense from these moments, but they never come together as a whole. They feel like artificial attempts to pump up an otherwise lackluster script.

Instead of spending more time in the courtroom, where the cast could explore their characters with more depth, the script seems preoccupied with car chases and close calls. Judd and Freeman have both been down this path before, both individually and collectively, but this isn’t their best work. They’re not bad, they’re just trapped in a bad movie.

Anyone who has seen “The Parallax View,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Verdict,” “Double Jeopardy” or any episode of television’s “JAG” will walk away with a feeling of Deja vu. I haven’t read Finder’s book, so it’s difficult to judge what belongs to him and what belongs to the film’s writers. I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but the script is a slow burn of familiar characters and tried and true clichés.

I like Ashley Judd, especially her ability to mix personal, heart-felt dramas and comedies with more popular, less filling commercial fare. After “Kiss The Girls” and “Double Jeopardy,” it’s easy to see why the filmmakers cast her as Claire. She has the presence to make Claire more than the written word, a woman caught on an emotional roller coaster with more loops and hairpin turns than anyone has a right to endure.

Freeman, who co-starred with Judd in “Kiss The Girls,” doesn’t fare nearly as well. Freeman makes Grimes the wild card he claims to be, but the role of the drunken lawyer seeking redemption is so overused that even the durable Freeman can’t rescue him. Paul Newman delivered a much more definitive performance of the same sort of character in “The Verdict.”

As Claire’s too-good-to-be-true husband Tom, Jim Caviezel adds to his roster of dark, mysterious characters who aren’t what they appear to be. Caviezel is okay, but also finds himself trapped by the limits of the script. The rest of the cast feel like chess pieces in a losing game. Michael Gaston is the military court judge who is blind to justice, Bruce Davison and Juan Carlos Hernandez the military advisors caught in a cover-up, and Adam Scott the defenseless defense counsel.

Thanks to Carole Kravetz-Aykanian razor sharp editing, “High Crimes” moves at a clip, a necessity to hide the gaps in logic. Theo Van de Sande’s cinematography is sharper and much more focused than the actual film, while Graeme Revell’s music suggests more thrills and suspense than “High Crimes” delivers.

It’s particularly jarring that this walk through the park come from director Franklin, whose previous films “One False Move” and “Devil in a Blue Dress” proved his ability to mix character development, plot and suspense with ultimate results. “High Crimes” is an all around weak effort, with just enough pulp promise to lure an unsuspecting audience into its tattered web.


Military thriller discharges canon of clichés


Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Bruce Davison. Directed by Carl Franklin. Rated PG-13. 115 Minutes.


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