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A woman's life becomes embroiled in a huge military cover-up when it's revealed her husband is not who he says he is.
For more about High Crimes and the High Crimes Blu-ray release, see the High Crimes Blu-ray Review
Starring: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Bruce Davison
Director: Carl Franklin
» See full cast & crew
High Crimes Blu-ray Review
“I swear I didn’t do this.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 6, 2009
No, High Crimes isn't the sequel to Half Baked or the subtitle for a hypothetical new Pineapple Express film. Neither Cheech nor Chong make an appearance, and no one gets the munchies while running from the cops. This is all very unfortunate, because if you've got a good memory, you might dimly recall High Crimes, from way back in April of 2002, as a bland courtroom thriller that reunited the Kiss the Girls duo of Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. Well, thriller really isn't the right word, as the film has all the tension of a sagging power line. With a ho-hum, drawn-out plot and a clichéd cast of characters, High Crimes never deviates from the genre rulebook, even down to the big twist most viewers will figure out by the second act.
Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) is a successful, high-powered attorney with a life that seems too good to be true—you can already see where this is going, right? She's one trial away from making full partner at her firm, her blue-collar husband Tom (Jim Caviezel) is doting and affectionate, and, when the movie opens, the two are happily engaged in some baby-making of the hurry-up, right- here-on-the-couch-while-I'm-ovulating variety. Their merry marital routine grinds to crashing halt, however, when Tom—out of the blue—is arrested in a coordinated FBI sting and sent to a military prison, where he's kept on constant suicide watch. Claire is understandably baffled, and when she demands to know what crime her husband has committed, she learns that Tom is actually Sgt. Ron Chapman, a former special-ops soldier accused of murdering nine Salvadoran citizens in a 1988 cartel bust gone bad. Of course, Tom/Ron claims he's innocent, and pins the blame on Major James Hernandez (Juan Carlos Hernandez), an intimidating, wonky-eyed member of his former unit. Ron is assigned a rookie military lawyer (Adam Scott), but Claire insists on joining the defense team and recruits washed-up, ex-Marine attorney Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) to assist with the case. While doing a bit of gumshoe work on their own, the three lawyers discover a possible conspiracy that goes right to the top of the ranks, ending with Brigadier General Bill Marks (Bruce Davison), a powerful, shadowy figure who feels threatened by the investigation. While the case heats up, a malicious lurker starts harassing Clair, Charlie hits the bottle once again, and no one can be sure if Tom/Ron—who'er he be—is telling the truth.
Aside from the initial shock of realizing that Tom—who seems like such a nice guy, really—is not who he says he is, the film plays out in one tired beat after another, with no real sense of tension or threat. The central conceit concerns the differences between a civilian case and a military court-martial, and while the film briefly plays up the possibility that Tom might not be getting a fair trial—the Marines almost certainly want to keep the conspiracy hush-hush—the inherent drama of the situation is rendered inert by a shallow, unfocused approach that relies too heavily on stock characters and situations. I don't want to say that High Crimes is a bad film; it's just completely innocuous. It certainly doesn't help that the story forces Claire and Charlie into an unlikely, buddy-cop routine, and the little stabs at levity rob the film of any seriousness it tries to muster. Part of the problem is Amanda Peet, who plays Claire's itinerant, bohemian sister Jackie. You'll note that I didn't mention her in my plot synopsis, and that's because she has no purpose in the narrative. Sorry for the italics, but I feel a need for emphasis on that point. She basically exists for the sake of quirkiness—oh, did I mention she's a psychic?—and her sole contribution to the plot is to have an inconsequential relationship with Adam Scott's rookie lawyer character.
It's hard to be too critical of Morgan Freeman, as he's got that avuncular, owlish, seen-it-all wisdom thing down pat, but his character's arc here is all too typical. Yes, we get it, he's a lawyer who's been washed up in a wave of alcohol, and though he's been sober for over a year now, the bottle still holds a powerful allure. When he succumbs, High Crimes slips another notch into mediocrity by playing Charlie's drunkenness too much for laughs. Ashley Judd, however, is a bit harder to get a handle on in this film. She has flashes of tough girl tenacity, and shows some genuine emotion at times, but there were several moments when I just didn't buy her character. You know when you were a kid and your mom would get mad and use her "angry mom voice," a tone that you couldn't help but find hilarious? That's what Ashley Judd's performance reminds me of in High Crimes. If Freeman is the wise old owl, Judd is a perky squirrel here, trying to crack a tough nut of a case.
Thrillers—especially courtroom dramas—usually require some compelling mystery to drive the plot, and the "did he/didn't he do it" element of Tom/Ron's murder trial isn't really interesting enough to keep us engaged. The film tries to broaden its scope by including a military cover-up sub-plot, but even this proves to be ill thought out and misdirecting. The fake climax also takes a hokey turn—hokey because we've long since figured out the twist—and the film ends on a somewhat silly note that may have you saying, "yeah, right." High Crimes is one of those films that leaves no impression whatsoever, and while it's passable as lazy Sunday afternoon entertainment, it's too superficial to warrant multiple viewings.
High Crimes Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like an innocent man proudly pleading not guilty, High Crimes holds its head up on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. Don't be fooled by the overly grainy flashback scene that starts the film in a bang of overblown contrast; this quickly gives way to a warm and well- detailed image. Check out the shot in Claire's bathroom when she's reading her pregnancy test— you can make out all the individual creases in her fingers, and the lines of the water faucet and sink look clean and resolved. Similarly, you'll be able to make out every little leathery texture in Charlie Grime's biking jacket and each pore and pock in Morgan Freeman's face. The image has a definite filmic look, but the thin veneer of grain rarely becomes noticeable, and I only spotted two or three scenes where noise was overly active. Black levels, while they could be a bit deeper, are astute through much of the film, and even darker scenes—like when Jim Caviezel hears someone in his house—display a good sense of shadow delineation. There are a few noticeable scenes that look more dull and drab than others—particularly under fluorescent lights—but much of the film has a nice, saturated, skin-flattering tone. You'll spot some occasional contrast wavering in out-of-focus portions of the frame, and there are a few white specks and flecks on the print, but overall this a great transfer for a catalog title.
High Crimes Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, High Crimes comes to trial with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that isn't incredibly active, but definitely puts out more sound than I expected from a courtroom drama. The film only has one real moment of overt "sound design"—during the frantic car crash near the end of the film—and here you'll find some believable, crunching pans and cross-channel squealing. Otherwise, the rear channels get a few discrete effects—some panned sirens, passing cars, and helicopter rotors—but much of the surround use is devoted to quiet ambience and the bleeding of Graeme Revell's smoky score. There's a decent spread in the front channels for additional effects, and vocals take up a clear and prioritized place in the center. I found myself surprised by the range of the track at times, as the film's two or three explosions jolt with convincing concussive clarity, sub-woofer throb kicks in on occasion for added oomph, and high-end sounds, like the cracking of billiard balls, are reproduced with a nice attention to detail.
High Crimes Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Director Carl Franklin
Perhaps best known for Devil in a Blue Dress, Franklin here gives a talkative, likable track, but as the film isn't really that interesting, the commentary—by extension—isn't either.
A Military Mystery (SD, 7:22)
Author Joe Finder talks about the adaptation process and the differences between his novel and the script. He comes across as over-wowed and self-possessed, and you'll probably nod your head with false sympathy as he gives us an obvious breakdown of how books are different from movies.
FBI Takedown in Union Square (SD, 3:34)
FBI Consultant Sue Doucette talks about how pedestrians were terrified by the FBI SWAT team, and then we get some brief, behind-the-scenes, on-location footage.
A Different Kind of Justice (SD, 4:48)
Attorney Alice Cate discusses the differences between military and civilian trials, mostly focusing on the jargon and procedures.
Liar Liar: How to Beat a Polygraph with Sue Doucette (SD, 5:52)
Doucette talks about the counter-measures used to beat a polygraph, and the counter counter- measures that polygraph operators use to get to the truth. This is probably the most interesting special feature on the disc.
The Car Crash (SD, 2:24)
Here the director shows us all the different techniques used to film the movie's big car crash.
Together Again (SD, 7:31)
Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd previously worked together on Kiss the Girls, and this brief featurette focuses on their casual, on-screen chemistry.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:27)
High Crimes Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I was a little surprised to even see High Crimes get a Blu-ray release, as I was under the impression that nearly everyone had forgotten about the film. I know I had. While the film is significantly less than the best the genre has to offer, the good news is, if you liked High Crimes—there must be a handful of you out there—the title looks and sounds great in high definition. Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman fans may want this in their collections, but for everyone else this is a rental at best.
High Crimes Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - September 1st - September 1, 2009
There is a bit of controversy with one of today's releases, so I'm just going to get this out of the way as quickly as possible to avoid any further distraction. While not a horrible presentation, the Blu-ray release of ‘Gladiator' does not live up to the promise ...
• Details Revealed for The Girl Next Door; High Crimes Blu-rays - July 1, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Girl Next Door' and 'High Crimes', which are both scheduled to hit store shelves on September 1st. 'The Girl Next Door' will come ...
• Girl Next Door, High Crimes Coming Up on Blu - May 27, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release two catalog movies on Blu-ray on September 1: the teen film 'The Girl Next Door', starring Elisha Cuthbert, and the courtroom thriller 'High Crimes', ...
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