High Crimes
review by Gregory Avery, 5 April 2002

High Crimes is the sort of woman-in-peril schlock that you usually see, being played out by B-level actors, on Lifetime Television any Saturday or Sunday afternoon -- which makes the involvement, here, of Morgan Freeman and director Carl Franklin even more bewildering.

"The military have set-up your husband," says one character early on, and that pretty much sums up the entire picture. A successful, high-powered attorney (Ashley Judd) -- who looks great in a dress suit, and can talk about sports with the boys -- sees her husband (Jim Caviezel) arrested, rather forcefully, and carted off to a U.S. Marine Corps base to face charges before a court-martial. The attorney takes on her husband's defense to find out just what they are: instigating a massacre in an El Salvador village while operating as part of an elite paramilitary unit in the country during the 1980s. She then seeks help from another attorney (played by Freeman), who comes highly recommended but also has a reputation for being a drunkard. The attorney's husband looks soulfully into her eyes, tears falling, and tells her he didn't do it; we wait to see whether or not he really, truly did, after all. We also wait to see how long it's going to be before Freeman's character falls off the wagon. Various other things ensue, such as attempts on the main characters' lives.

Carl Franklin tries to stage this with an emphasis on character action that would bring some further dimension and life to the material, and, as in his previous films -- from One False Move (1992) to Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) and One True Thing (1998) -- he gets very good work from the actors. Judd and Freeman work very comfortably together (they had previously appeared in Kiss the Girls, back in 1997), and Caviezel even looks less sleepy than usual, while Amanda Peet does about as good a job as anyone could with an almost hopeless part (the younger sister of Judd's character, who's as much of a wreck as she's composed and immaculately groomed), and Adam Scott does a more than perfectly fine job playing the somewhat-green Marine attorney who's appointed to the husband's defense. The excellent Bruce Davison also achieves, in only a few scenes, a masterfully creepy turn as a distrustful Brigadier General.

Franklin almost, but can't quite, make the dumbbell ending work, though. and the film's coda inadvertently turns the picture into a TV pilot -- The Further Adventures of Ashley and Morgan, so to speak.  I suspect that Morgan Freeman is taking roles in movies like this and Along Came a Spider because they're allow him to maintain his dignity and stature as an actor while doing a perfectly respectable job of acting in the films themselves. There are moments, though, in High Crimes where he exercises his craft in such a way as to make you realize, with a jolt, just how very, very good an actor this guy can be. He needs material that is of the same caliber as his acting abilities, rather than beneath them.

Directed by:
Carl Franklin

Starring:
Ashley Judd
Morgan Freeman
Jim Caviezel
Amanda Peet
Adam Scott
Bruce Davison

Written by:
Yuri Zeltser
Cary Bickley

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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