Cinema Signal:

Secret Crimes & Coverups of the U.S. Government

(for real)

. "High Crimes"

The "high" in "High Crimes" is top military brass, as this film deals with corruption and coverup in our military. But, rather than being convincing about such possibilities, it comes forth more as a formulaic vehicle for the previously successful pairing of Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, borrowing heavily from other military corruption themes in "A Few Good Men" and "No Way Out".

In other words, here is a project that was borne out of a perceived need to make more money off a sequalization of casting and to find or create a project to exploit the chemistry. It's not altogether a failure, but it's less than "Kiss The Girls". It's labored direction is by the brilliant Carl Franklin of the crisp "One False Move", and murkily written by Joseph Finder on whose novel Yuri Zeltser based his overly complex screenplay that puts us in the unwelcome grip of regimentation.

It all derives from what happened in the Salvadoran village of Las Colinas in 1988 when one of the men in a squad of U.S. Marines exterminated the local civilians and the right or wrong guy was blamed for it. One of those is Tom, who will later be accused of being Ronald Chapman (James Caviezel), the soft-spoken husband of Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) a San Francisco defense attorney with impressive credentials who has become something of a TV celebrity off her successful defense of an accused rapist.

But a certain smugness about her victory is wiped out when hubby Tom is charged with assault, resisting authority and the murder of nine at Las Colinas, and marched off to military brig by a cadre of no-nonsense feds. Maintaining utter faith in her husband's innocence, she goes up against military justice, first seeking out the painfully naive military defense attorney in the person of Lt. Terrence Embry (Adam Scott) to whom her husband's case was assigned. Knowing such a kid won't provide the necessary gravitas for a military courtroom, or the legal tactics for an adequate defense, she seeks out the once respected JAG attorney, Charles Grimes (Morgan Freeman).

Grimes is a case unto himself, having been relieved of duty years before due to sexual pecadillos and who is now a recovering alcoholic maintaining very light legal duties for the downtrodden civilians in his run down neighborhood, aspiring to nothing much better. But Claire's offer, and a certain itchiness to get back into his specialty in the military realm, has him agree to third chair and chief legal tactician on the team. Freeman doesn't have to do much beyond being himself to fulfill the promise of what this is likely to mean to the outcome.

Somewhere in here, Claire's errant sister Jackie (gorgeous Amanda Peet), naughty, brash, and irresponsible, comes to complicate matters, like moving in with Claire and bedding the resistable co-counsel Embry. Funny, she didn't seem that desperate.

The first legal moves in the trial convinces us that hubby Tom is being railroaded by some seriously sociopathic military personalities. When he passes a lie detector test, Claire is reassured, but when she learns that he's been trained to do just that, her confidence in him is rocked. So she goes, from one extreme of support for his innocence to another earth shaking crack in the deep love for the man. We, too, are convinced for a time in his rock solidity as an upstanding and moral man who couldn't have pulled that trigger against innocents, only to find a soft spot in the foundations.

Judd and Freeman work well together, as they did in their previous outing. It's interesting how the considerably older Freeman, a rock himself of deep and dependable acting skills, is being found in so many films paired with alluring younger actresses, as in "Along Came a Spider" with Monica Potter and "Moll Flanders" with Robin Wright. Be that as it may, he's always a welcome sight wherever he goes and in whatever vehicle.

But, even he's not enough to elevate this one to anything more than an ordinary melodrama with stifling regimentation and a tad too much "did he or didn't he?". Ashley Judd's passionate strength, while producing moments of convincing emotional involvement, lacks the natural heft for the required elevation over the dramatic listlessness. It's not a terrible evening's entertainment, but it registers little more than a junior pay grade in the hierarchy of what's out there to see. We look for better from all concerned.

Estimated cost: $45,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $42,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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