High Crimes (12A)

Review by Jack Foley

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IF courtroom thrillers were put on trial for the way in which they enthral their viewers and reveal their neat little twists, then High Crimes would be guilty of falling prey to just about every type of cliché in the genre.

Reuniting Ashley Judd with Morgan Freeman (the two last worked together on Kiss The Girls), High Crimes is a fairly routine potboiler, made to feel and look better by the quality of its talented cast - aside from the pairing of its central duo, the movie also boasts the likes of Jim (The Thin Red Line) Caviezel, Amanda Peet and Bruce Davison.

Based on a novel by Joseph Finder, High Crimes finds Ashley Judd’s successful San Francisco-based lawyer, Claire Kubik, forced to defend her husband, Caviezel, in a military courtroom against charges that he committed mass murder in central America.

The court case threatens to cast doubt on everything she thought she knew about her husband, while putting her career and life on the line. But with the help of Freeman’s wily ex-judge advocate attorney, now a recovering alcoholic, she sets about proving his innocence, while struggling to cope with a legal system that is an alien environment to her.

Directed with measured efficiency by Carl Franklin, High Crimes is the type of thriller that might surprise anyone new to the courtroom genre, but which is glaringly obvious to anyone used to this sort of thing.

Its twists are hardly surprising, its characters wafer thin and its payoff less than gratifying; although, somehow, you don’t seem to notice how bad it is while watching.

Judd has long been a good actress in need of a really decent role, while Freeman can take the flimsiest material and do something interesting with it. The chemistry both possess is also undeniable.

Needless to say, the movie works best when both are on screen, with Freeman especially charismatic as the cantankerous charmer, prone to annoying his superiors just for the hell of it, while Judd seems to rise above her routine material whenever she shares screen time with him.

The flip side, of course, is that the movie’s failings become all the more glaring. Caviezel is less than convincing in the crucial role of the accused, while Peet is merely annoying and wasted as Judd’s ditsy, bed-hopping sister.

Viewers are also likely to be counting down the minutes to its obvious conclusion, while ticking off the comparisons to other, better, films in the genre (Jagged Edge, A Few Good Men, etc, etc).

As slick and clever as it thinks it is, and however hard it tries to make up for its failings by playing to the strengths of its leads, High Crimes is, ultimately, strictly lightweight fare, better suited to a Saturday night at home, in front of the video.