**/**** Image A Sound A Extras D+
starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, Annabeth Gish
screenplay by David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook
directed by Bruce Beresford
by Bill Chambers Imprisoned for the murder of her husband, whose apparently dismembered body was never recovered from the deep blue sea, Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd, who's very good) calls her little boy from a phone bank and hears him say this: "Daddy!" It's Double Jeopardy's most convincing moment, relying as it does on the ignorance of a child--so persuasive, in fact, that you may wonder at film's end if it had been imported from another screenplay altogether.
Double Jeopardy's innumerable contrivances culminate in one of the most troublesome tag lines in recent memory, "Murder isn't always a crime." (You half expect to find out that Johnnie Cochran was responsible for the marketing campaign.) As all trailers and commercials have taken great pains to spoil for us, Libby's conviction for killing hubby Nick permits her to rub him out for real upon release without punishment. But "double jeopardy" the legal term means something entirely different: One can't be tried for the same specific crime twice; if Libby offs Nick a second time, it is a separate offense, still subject to litigation.
Worse, the filmmakers have a lawyer character deliver their homemade definition of "double jeopardy," and an expert back it up as a baffled chap looks on: "As an ex-law professor, I can assure you she is right," says Tommy Lee Jones's Travis, an alcoholic parole officer. Travis comes to believe in Libby's innocence--after she violates curfew at his halfway house, sinks his car, and totals his replacement car. No wonder he drinks.
But seriously. He's used to dealing with belligerent women, and does so imperiously, so what eventually exempts Libby from his zero-tolerance policy? There is no turning point; in life you can say, "I just had this feeling," but in the movies, we need a dramatically definitive trigger for the about-face in our cop hero's attitude.
I could criticize this movie's shoddy writing up and down but the fact remains that Double Jeopardy was a box-office smash. A rousing revenge thriller, Libby's rampage plays into--I'm hypothesizing--deep-seated mariticide fantasies (it romanticizes the idea of cold-cocking your mate, much in the manner that Julia Roberts's Sleeping with the Enemy did). Double Jeopardy has struck a particular chord among women, who develop animalistic bonds with their young. Hell may hath no fury like a Libby scorned, but the goal of her rampage is to regain custody of her kid, who is in danger, as far as the audience is concerned, of being raised in the image of his scuzzy father.
We wonder in the opening scenes how someone so obviously intelligent as Libby could not initially see her spouse for the weasel he is, but the catch-22 is, if Bruce Greenwood had not invested the role with such an oily repulsion from the start, why would we want to see him dead in act three? Director Bruce Beresford, whose credits run the gamut from occasionally magnificent to mostly dreadful, directs with a sledgehammer except when he doesn't, though he runs an efficient operation and steers Double Jeopardy down the most crowd-pleasing roads. A Hitchcockian sequence involving a car, a ferry, and a handcuffed Libby is primally suspenseful.
Paramount's Double Jeopardy DVD features another in a long line of gorgeous anamorphic transfers. The New Orleans scenery, which has the clarity and intensity of a postcard, will especially please those new to the format. Flesh tones are accurate and black level is top notch, always solid yet never interfering with shadow detail. Sporadic negative dirt (during second-unit photography, such as establishing shots of the cursed boat, The Morning Star) hardly downgrades my opinion of the image, letterboxed at 2.35:1.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is undistinguished, save for some nice foley work in the rears. What qualifies as action, such as the aforementioned ferry set-piece, gets the subwoofer talking, but this soundtrack, while not disappointing in the slightest, is rarely beyond serviceable due to the quiet nature of the film. (A Dolby Surround mix is also included.) Extras include a throwaway EPK (billed as a "behind-the-scenes featurette") plus Double Jeopardy's appetizing trailer. Originally published: March 6, 2000.