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High Crimes (R)
20th Century Fox
Official Site
Director: Carl Franklin
Producers: Jesse Beaton, Naomi Despres
Written by: Yuri Zeltser, Grace Cary Bickley; from a novel by Joesph Finder
Cast: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, James Caviezel, Amanda Peet, Adam Scott

Rating: out of 5

Going into this film I genuinely felt it might be okay. Yes, yes I know, Iím naÔve, an irrational optimist, a Pollyanna. I should have known better than to trust a film with a drab, generic title like High Crimes. That any rational person would, and should, automatically dismiss this film from its overheated trailers that suggest it to be nothing more than another slick, legal thriller where witty, attractive lawyers outfox some ruthless, military fascists. Oh yeah, and itís being released in April, which puts it smack dab in the middle of what is usually the major studiosí dump season. (Thatís right: The fact that Resident Evil, Sorority Boys, and Showtime all opened within a week of one another is not really a coincidence.)

Alright, so all signs point to schlock, but let me tell you why I was cautiously optimistic. First off, the director of this film, Carl Franklin, helmed one the best little thrillers of the í90s, One False Move, and to his credit he moves this film along at a brisk pace. He keeps scenes from boiling over into melodramatic overkill and even manages some subtly creepy scenes early on.

The other reason I had some faith in this film was Ashley Juddís involvement. Sheís not really a great actress, doesnít have much range, but given the right role she can easily transcend the limits of a minted starlet like Julia Roberts, who has nothing more to offer than a fake smile. Ashley Judd can actually play a fast-talking, ace lawyer without it seeming too absurd.

So it could have worked, and did for a while. It holds your attention for at least the first hour as we watch the perfect world of Claire Kubik fall apart, when her husband Tom (Caviezel) is arrested by the military for allegedly committing a massacre while he was a soldier operating in El Salvador. Claire decides to stand by her man and fight the military establishment with the help of a rookie army lawyer (Scott), a brilliant but alcoholic lawyer (Freeman), and a smart-ass talking dog.

Okay, really thereís no talking dog, but it might have been an improvement over Freeman, who sleepwalks his way though yet another role as the benevolent, all-knowing, old pro. Heís become a caricature of dignity and warmth. Although really, I donít think anyone could enliven dialogue like, ďI love being the wild card.Ē

Claire and her friends take on the case, and are tormented endlessly by military goons who use all sorts of intimidation and manipulation to make them crack so they wonít uncover the big conspiracy. Yeah, definitely formulaic, but itís well-made. As I said Judd is more than competent, and the rest of the supporting cast is strong, particularly Caviezel, as the husband with the mysterious past. So itís looking like itís going to end up on the plus side of average until the end, where we are served up one of the most ridiculous, implausible plot twists in recent memory; a twist that invalidates and makes absurd the actions of almost everyone in the movie. Then, to add insult to injury, we get an inane, cutesy epilogue to choke on. So in the spirit of that noxious little closer let me end by suggesting the makers of High Crimes should be found guilty and sentenced to death.

Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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