View Date: April 6th, 2002

Rating: ($$$ out of $$$$$)


Ashley Judd Claire Kubik
Morgan Freeman Charles Grimes
Jim Caviezel Tom Kubik 
Adam Scott Lt. Embry
Amanda Peet Jackie Grimaldi
Bruce Davison Brig. Gen Marks
Tom Bower Agent Mullins
Juan  Hernández Maj Hernandez
Michael Gaston Maj Waldron
Jude Ciccolella Col Farrell
Emilio Rivera Salvadoran Man

Directed by:
Carl Franklin 

Written by:
(novel) Joseph Finder 
(screenplay) Grace Cary Bickley 
Yuri Zeltser 

Related Viewings:
Courage Under Fire (1996)
Few Good Men, A (1992)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Official Site:
High Crimes - The Movie

Also see my reviews at:


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Go To Reel Rambling Page



High Crimes

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 watching.  But 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 flavor.  Davison’s 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

The performances 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 resolve things.

Ultimately, High 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 better

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