½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, James Caviezel, Adam Scott
screenplay by Yuri Zeltser & Cary Bickley, based on the novel by Joseph Finder
directed by Carl Franklin
by Walter Chaw Its title too easy a condemnation of the film itself, the otherwise-talented Carl Franklin's High Crimes is a sickly, by-the-numbers member of a proud lineage of films that includes such abortive boondoggles as The Presidio, A Few Good Men, The General's Daughter, True Crime, and eventually What Lies Beneath. It begs the question of whether Morgan Freeman, unquestionably the American actor with the most commanding presence and charisma, will ever get a film that's truly worthy of him--and whether professional punching-bag Ashley Judd will meekly get the stuffing knocked out of her in the upcoming Catwoman as well. It confirms that Jim Caviezel should consider either a cup of coffee or a different career, that Amanda Peet was probably born sucking on a lollipop and wearing Daisy Dukes, and that after having seen some variation on High Crimes for the umpteenth uncountable time, I have grown, unquestionably, very weary of it.
Tough defense attorney Claire (Judd) is married to barely animate cadaver Tom (Caviezel). One night, Tom is arrested by the FBI for the murder of nine El Salvadorian peasants several years previous. It seems that Tom has been living on borrowed time under an assumed name, his heavy-lidded reptile powers of deception part of the special forces training he received as an agent of the evil U.S. government. Not versed in military law, Claire decides to take on Tom's case with the help of a green first lieutenant (Adam Scott) and grizzled ex-JAG and drunk, Charlie (Freeman), who's looking for redemption--as if I needed to say it. High Crimes wisely declines to develop Charlie beyond archetype because Freeman is doing his patented "wise old mentor with a dark past" shtick. It similarly declines to develop its plot beyond a series of impotent revelations and flaccid plot twists (none more flaccid than its last). The best that can be said of the asinine High Crimes is that it's neither quite as repugnant as that other Freeman/Judd misfire Kiss the Girls, nor quite as moronic as Judd's Double Jeopardy--not exactly high praise.
One of those empowering women's films with a brilliant protagonist desperately in need of a man's help both intellectually and physically, High Crimes is nothing but a showcase for one starlet in killer suits playing at lawyer and a dozen lesser starlets in various states of undress portraying strippers, sluts, and hookers so as not to unduly threaten the deep-pocketed 16-24 male demographic. Brilliant and able Claire gets into cars with strangers who have already tried to kill her, wanders around alone when bands of goons are eager to beat her, and she seems wholly incapable of jumping ahead to the ending with the rest of the audience. (To be fair, her courage is probably fuelled by her amazing restorative powers: judging by the speed with which a nasty shiner clears up, Claire heals like a Highlander.) The tip-off as to just how much High Crimes respects its female (and male) lead is revealed by its last joke: apparently, girls are really interested in interior decorating and boys are just impossible. Titter.
High Crimes is a Mildred Pierce-ian bodice-ripper, an estrogen melodrama that lets the girl be the hero in a series of tight-lipped diatribes and sarcastic rejoinders before a series of tall, dark, and handsome men swoop in with vital information and physical intervention. Though Claire is neither all that smart, all that resourceful, nor all that strong in any measurable way, the distillate of the picture's soul is the no-longer-subversive Caucasian man-hating movie in which every white fellow is a shade of inept, corrupt, or in other ways deserving of a bullet or a stern dressing-down.
At its heart of hearts, however, High Crimes is only interested in the debasement and punishment of its ostensible protagonist. Claire is introduced to us in a series of accomplishments: she is taking control of her reproductive facility, winning a mistrial for a man accused of rape, and offered a partnership in her law firm. By the end of the film, her reproduction has been hijacked, her faith in the justice system has been shattered, her career has been ruined, and her judgment revealed to be suspect. She experiences a devolution as a human being and a woman; the kind of character eradication that once marked Hitchcock (unfairly) as a misogynist will, in High Crimes, no doubt elicit cheers from a mostly female audience unaware that their heroine has been put on the spit.
Consider that Claire's moments of real strength come when she upbraids her whore of a little sister (Peet) for her Bohemian ways. We are so made to identify with Claire's point of view that when it appears the little sister is first betrayed and then murdered, we feel a sense of the same righteous finger-wagging, "I told you so" brand of vindictive moralizing. But what is Claire really indicting here? Nothing less than the threat that the harlot poses to the traditional family unit; promiscuity is akin to amorality and poor judgment. As evidenced by Claire's own tragic fall, High Crimes seems also to equate bed-hopping with professional ambition and the desire to have a child while remaining career-oriented. It renders High Crimes' use of issues such as rape and miscarriage all the more disturbing; does the film dare to imply a kind of poetic justice in the losses a woman incurs in the pursuit of more "masculine" goals?
Less politically, the picture is plain predictable. Embarrassing for everyone involved in every aspect of its production, and so boring when it's not offending that my thumb unconsciously pantomimed hitting the fast forward on a remote, High Crimes is a movie by folks not trying very hard (anymore). It's prefab entertainment for the easily amused--and the willingly duped--with all of the cheap epiphanies such an appellation implies. Consider the film a celluloid litmus test for the intellectual and emotional pedigree of your date and a giant step backward for a director I admire. Originally published: April 5, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Theo Van De Sande's high-contrast, high-saturation cinematography always transfers well to DVD (see also: Cruel Intentions, Blade), and his work on High Crimes is no exception. Letterboxed at 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, the film looks very rich on the format, representing another exemplary effort from Fox Video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is loud and clear but subdued, diverting all its energy to a few gunshots and explosions--the ambush in the middle of the street delivers an especially propulsive LFE kick. High Crimes is supplemented on DVD by six featurettes of varying worth. The first, "A Military Mystery", is an interview with gracious subject Joe Finder, author of the novel upon which the film is based. "FBI Takedown in Union Square" provides a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Tom's apprehension, a sequence that Carl Franklin says in his commentary may be the last one shot in San Francisco's Union Square for quite a while.