2002, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Carl Franklin. Starring Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Adam Scott, Bruce Davison, Amanda Peet, Juan Carlos Hernández.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 5, 2002
The generic title provides an immediate clue to High Crimes' pedigree. It's a genre picture, a thriller fit with a paint-by-numbers plot of mistaken identity, red herrings, doppelgangers, and even a convenient, clue-dropping Deep Throat. None of this surprises. What does surprise, however, is how good High Crimes is. But maybe that's no surprise after all, considering Carl Franklin is at the helm. An inspired craftsman, Franklin brings a consistent stylishness to his pictures, from the indie sleeper One False Move and the Denzel Washington detective noir Devil in a Blue Dress to the effective, if maudlin, One True Thing. Franklin delivers the same snap to High Crimes, a film that flirts with cliché, but never fully beds it. Perennially perky Ashley Judd plays Claire Kubik, star attorney and loving wife to Tom Kubik (Caviezel). Their storybook marriage is ripped apart when the feds storm them on a crowded San Francisco street; Tom is accused of the murder of seven El Salvadorans, casualties of a botched mission that took place 15 years ago, in another life, when Tom was called Ron Chapman and was a member of an elite Marine squad. Shaken by her husband's hidden past but determined to defend him from what is presumably a framing by military brass, Claire takes on the case, with a green lieutenant (Scott) and an unconventional, recovering alcoholic ex-Marine named Grimes (Freeman) at her side. Too often, Judd's kewpie-doll cuteness has threatened to overwhelm her obvious intelligence; here, she works those two qualities in her favor, skillfully veering from a courtroom tiger to a shaken, inconsolable wife. It helps, of course, that Judd is backed by a terrific assemblage of supporting actors. Scott is a baby-faced charmer as the fumbling, newbie attorney, and Peet turns in another scene-stealing performance as Claire's flighty, ne'er-do-well sister. The mournfulness, the sense of something terribly weighty on his shoulders that follows Caviezel from role to role -- so compelling in The Thin Red Line -- translates into something blander here, but that's in keeping with Tom/Ron's cipher-like M.O. And then there is Morgan Freeman, an actor who seemingly can do no wrong (and another actor of color criminally ignored by the Academy). Although his character receives frustratingly disproportionate screentime, the film practically crackles with energy whenever he walks into the frame … or roars into it, rather, on Grimes' boss-hog Harley, in supercat-cool leather. Freeman infuses the “wild card” cliché with both glee and gravity, and somehow makes personifying that paradox appear effortless. Which is precisely in time with the director. Just as Freeman uplifts even the worst production (and he's been in some real dogs), Franklin injects life into a flat format and has in the process done something nearly unheard of in Hollywood as of late: He's brought class back to the genre film.