High Crimes (2002)

Directed by Carl Franklin

This movie is all about plot twists. With the exception of the character Claire Kubik, played by Ashley Judd, High Crimes wants to keep the audience unsure about each character (as uncertain as Judd’s character is). So it’s a suspense thriller.

Living an apparently happy married life, a failed robbery attempt at the Kubik home leads to the discovery of a past Claire’s husband hasn’t revealed. Claire is suddenly faced with the reality that she knows little about her husband.

He has been living as one man when in truth his past reveals he is another. He has been involved with covert military operations and the investigation brought on by the robbery leads to FBI charges against him. He’s charged with the brutal murder of civilians in South America.

Claire, a lawyer, chooses to stand by her husband and defend him. But though she does, she is never quite certain and she wavers back and forth, especially as she delves deeper into the crime and the murky waters just get murkier. In the process, she also enlists the help of maverick military lawyer, played by Morgan Freeman.

The movie is a standard paranoid thriller playing upon our expectations of these sorts of things – for example, if it’s the military they must be covering up for someone, and so on. The movie’s twists and turns are not particularly convincing but, for the most part, we don’t really dwell on their credibility because the movie’s pacing allows us to ignore this.

It’s like being hustled from room to room in someone’s house – we get impressions of each room but never really look closely at them because we’re being rushed to the next one.

In this sense, then, the film works. So it’s not really flawed. It is what it is trying to be, and achieves what it attempts. It’s a Hollywood thriller. It doesn’t stand up to close scutiny but it’s not really intended to.

While the pacing works well for the film, what is even more successful is the team of Judd and Freeman. I’m not sure why, but they work well together. I suspect it’s because both are very good actors, especially Freeman. In fact, the biggest flaw for me with the film is in the amount of screen time for Freeman.

The best scenes include his character. As with an entirely different movie, My Favorite Year where we don’t get enough Peter O’Toole, when Freeman is not on screen you keep wishing he’d return.

Freeman is always wonderful because he gives us the iceberg quality – whatever his characters are doing or saying, you always sense there is a great deal more to them below the surface. It’s his ability to communicate depth of character that makes him so interesting onscreen.

The DVD is pretty standard for this kind of movie. The video and audio are quite good, and the special features, while not exactly spectacular, do provide some moderately interesting featurettes and a commentary.

With High Crimes, don’t expect high art. It’s simply a good entertaining Hollywood film that doesn’t bare up under too close an examination. But it does accomplish what it sets out to do.

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