I think Carl
Franklin and company watched A Few Good Men, one too many times.
High Crimes is Franklin’s entry into an already crowded
genre of military courtroom dramas, most of which have been done
much better than this one has.
Franklin pulls out every plotline and cliché in the book,
then slaps on a sloppily done, poorly thought out ending,
resulting in an effort that should be tried on its accord, for
theft, of ideas, and of my time spent watching and writing about
it. I am generally a sucker for any movie that is set in, or even
built around, the process of jurisprudence, so High Crimes had an
appeal to me, and for the most part kept me interested and
Franklin fails, where Rob Reiner (Men) Billy Wilder (Witness
for the Prosecution) and most notably Hitchcock (Anatomy of
A Murder) succeeded, in the wrapup of it all. A films finale, can be like a lawyers closing argument, the
whole case, or story, can hinge upon it, and if the evidence, or
setup, doesn’t match or support it, then it fails.
Franklin attempted to copy and emulate some classic films, but
it's like a novice attorney reading the words of a famed
barrister, if the delivery isn's there, the message and intentions
seem empty. Franklin’s closing argument seems
rushed and unnecessarily twisted and muddled, to the point where
the audience is left talking about the film, but probably not in
the ways that he intends.
Crimes tells the
story of Claire Kubik, a promising San Francisco attorney (the
opening shots will make you want to visit the Bay Area sometime
soon, as it was done by someone who knew how to capture the spirit
of the town) who finds her world turned upside down when her
ex-military husband is accused of leading a massacre in El
Salvador in 1988. She enlists the help of a disgraced ex-military
lawyer who, of course, has a drinking problem.
Together with the baby faced counsel who was assigned to
her husband, she sets out to prove the innocence of husband and/or
find out his true identity. I
liked the setup, but as characters and subplots began piling up, I
feared that the conclusion may fall victim to overcrowding, or
plot convenience, and I wasn’t far off.
The excess of stories and characters become distractions,
rather than additions, to a plot where they should have only added
turn as a high-ranking military official (playing the role of Jack
Nicholson) XXX’s presence as the young inexperienced counsel
(playing the role of Tom Cruise) and XXX’s presence as the
gung-ho military man with questionable morals and motives (playing
the role of Kiefer Sutherland) along with a man who conveniently
appears and disappears, all took away from a film that should have
been kept a lot simpler than it was
are what keep this film from sinking under the weight of its
traffic jam of a story, led and carried by Judd.
She has made a career almost, playing victimized, but
vengeful and resilient souls who have the strong will and
determination to fight back against whatever forces are against
her. She brings a
spunky spirit, along with her bubbly attractiveness to a role that
seems to have been written for her.
Also, paired with Freeman, whom she developed an almost
paternal bond with in their last pairing (Kiss The Girls), they
play strongly off of each others characters in a better way than
this script deserved. Cavieziel
seems to be overacting at times with his soft voice and
angst-filled eyes. But
that sad face also masks something that could be buried deeper in
his soul, as it did in Frequency, and The Thin Red Line.
Peet and XXX give the supporting roles some flavor, but
also complicate and cloud things, not by their presence, but by
the prevalence that their roles are given. No fault of their own of course, but more to the writers who
seemed to have several ideas and directions for this film, and
then settled on one of the more confusing and inconsistent ones to
Crimes is a palpable, unoriginal, at times convoluted entry into
the courtroom/military film genre.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then
somewhere, Rob Reiner must be feeling very proud.
Franklin has shamelessly borrowed elements from his
excellent 1991 drama, tried to mix in some other aspects of both
legal and military films, and produce something original. He fails slightly at this effort. The element of doubt is a very important tool in these kinds
of movies. In order
to prolong a story, the makers must generate this emotion in
audience. We must doubt the identities, the motives, the actions, and
the details, in order to keep the suspense going.
Unfortunately, Franklin ties his story in knots that he is
not talented enough untie, despite strong performances from Judd,
Freeman, Cavieziel and Peet.
The simplistic details, and development of the story, give
way to a train wreck of a resolution that could have been easily
explained and resolved in a much better manner.
Unnecessary characters, revolving loyalties, murky
motivations, and a hint at politics make High Crimes guilty of
lackadaisical film making wrapped around a potentially interesting
idea. Franklin had a good idea, in remaking Finder’s novel, but
is betrayed by his screenplay, which suffers from an identity
crisis of if it wants to be a whodunit, a political conspiracy, a
courtroom showdown, or a test of a couples love.
He has proven in the past that he can a complex,
intelligent character driven film, as he did in his 1992 debut One
False Move (written by a much better writer, a then little-known
Billy Bob Thornton) But amidst his directional confusion, lies a
film which is gripping, at times, intelligent, occasionally, but
wholly unoriginal, and in the end, frustrating and a bit
senseless. I enjoyed
the majority of the film, but once it was over, I was tainted by
the fact that something was missing, or could have been done much
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