Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Ashley Judd,
Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Amanda Peet, Tom Bower
Director: Carl Franklin
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: September 1, 2009
“Military justice is to justice just as military music is to music, Mrs. Kubik. Wake up and smell the napalm.”
Is the military court system a completely different set of rules from our normal civilian justice system? High Crimes is a thriller in which the central characters are very much provoked to ponder that question.
This isn’t the first time we’ve experienced a behind the scenes look at the maneuvering of military court martial. Movies such as A Few Good Men and Rules of Engagement have interwoven tales of suspense built around soldiers on trial for going beyond the call of duty. High Crimes brings the mystery closer to home, at least for its lead character, Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd). Kubik is a successful attorney who happens to have a much privileged marriage to Tom (Jim Caviezel), an ex military operative. All of their happiness is put on a sudden hold when the FBI arrests Tom while he and Claire are enjoying a night on the town.
More shocking for Claire to discover is that her husband’s name isn’t his real name, as it was used simply as a cover. Tom, who is now revealed as that of Ron Chapman, is ordered to stand trial for accusations of executing much deadly force against innocent civilians in a Latin American village during his tour of duty. Believing her husband’s innocence and desperate to save him from the death penalty, Claire will no doubt agree to defend him, but she’ll need some help from someone who knows their way around military justice. She discovers that element in Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman), a veteran lawyer schooled in military trials enough to help Claire out. The only problem is, Grimes has spent the last couple of years trying to sober up after succumbing to alcoholism.
During the course of the trial and the investigation, we get several flashbacks from key witnesses of the village massacre, much like in Courage Under Fire, and while this movie is nowhere near the level of that masterpiece, I did admire the way director Carl Franklin set up these crucial sequences. Tom strongly feels he was no doubt set up by an army superior, played in a brief appearance by Bruce Davison. It also remains unclear as if the military wants simple justice or is willing to go through with a cover-up.
The primary strength in High Crimes is in the performances, particularly in that of the two leads. Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman return to the screen once again following their success with the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls, a movie that I didn’t really care for but did have affection on the chemistry of the two actors. Here, they shine once again. Let’s face it, being a guy, you simply can’t help but feel like you’re in heaven when looking at Ms. Judd, and watching her play a strong character with loads of smarts qualifies as an even more solid treat. Then there’s the brilliant Morgan Freeman, who once again creates a character all his own, highlighted by his riveting and memorable acting chops. True, Mr. Freeman shares a supporting credit, but if he was just supplying a cameo, I’d still pay to see the movie. The movie also gets some good supporting work from Jim Caviezel, who’s on the road to stardom with both this and The Count of Monte Cristo under his belt, and Amanda Peet shines once again in the role of Claire’s hot-wired younger sister.
High Crimes does succeed on every level that is required of a basic Hollywood studio thriller. It pulls you in countless directions, before throwing you into a much unexpected detour of an ending. Credit Judd and Freeman for delivering skillful, accomplished performances, as well as the sharp directing job of Carl Franklin, who also made the hugely underrated Denzel Washington pic, Devil in a Blue Dress.
This one is quite a stunner...Fox has delivered a superb Blu-ray presentation that captures the light and dark scenes with amazing clarity and crispness. Colors are natural looking and perfectly contained, and I didn't notice any grain or compression to mar the imagery.
Being a spoken-word oriented film, the DTS HD doesn't send a lot to the bass channel, but there are a few moments when the rear channels deliver some subtle ambient effects to add to the suspense. Dialogue is cleanly delivered throughout, and the dynamic range is fair.
Fox seldom leaves a disc empty handed as far as extras go, and High Crimes gets just the right amount to give it a plus. Featured is a running commentary by director Carl Franklin, as well as six very well constructed featurettes, including one about human polygraph testing and one involving differences between military law and civilian law, both of which go beyond the movie. A trailer for the movie is included as well.
High Crimes has a been-there-done-that way about it, and yet at the same time it is engrossing every step of the way, thanks in large part to the immense level of talent involved. A much enjoyable thriller.