Claire (Judd) and Tom (Caviezel) appear to have it made. Claire is a successful attorney and Tom is ex-Army. They are happy and very much in love, trying to have their first child. Suddenly while out on the town an FBI SWAT team surrounds them on the street at Union Square. Tom is taken into custody. Claire soon discovers that Tom wasn’t the man she thought he was. In fact, his name isn’t even Tom. He is Sergeant Ron Chapman, and he’s been a fugitive for 12 years, wanted by the Army for murder. Now the military court is seeking the death penalty. He is accused of killing civilians in a raid gone wrong. He insists that he is innocent and that the guilty party is actually a prominent and influential general. All but two of the event’s witnesses are dead, many by mysterious accidents. Claire takes his case and turns to attorney Charles Grimes (Freeman) who has had experience with these kinds of cases. Unfortunately, he’s an alcoholic and a bit of a wild cannon. Still, he knows his stuff when he’s sober, and he’s the best chance she has of uncovering the truth. To win they will have to prove a government cover-up and risk their lives in the process. It appears a lot of folks don’t want this case to be solved. It’s an uphill battle, and everyone has something to hide. It’s a “trust no one situation” as Claire and Grimes get to the bottom of the case.
The film is based on a moderately successful novel by Joseph Finder. While the film has an impressive cast and a pretty good story, it suffers from a lack of imagination by director Carl Franklin. You may know the name. He was a busy television actor in the 80’s and 90’s and appeared relative failures like Fantastic Journey and well known shows like The A-Team. While he was a fair actor, I’m afraid his directorial skills haven’t translated. The film never really shows any imagination. It reminds me of those tubes on Star Trek that were marked GNDN (Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing). He fails to utilize the full extent of his widescreen picture, and all of the action falls too often inside that cramped relative center square that used to represent the difference with television. In spite of some tremendous chemistry with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, the film appears to meander too long in one place. Pacing is awkward and uneven, to be kind. In the end the film boils down to a very clichéd procedural that never comes close to breaking new ground. Audiences seemed to agree in 2002 when the film opened. It had a rather sweet opening weekend but soon was dropping like an anchor in deep water as word of mouth appeared to include a resounding thumbs down. It finished its run pulling in $41 million on a $42 million budget with 34% of its gross the first week.
The only real saving grace the film enjoys, and likely the reason for having a good first week, is the cast. Judd and Freeman worked together before on the more successful Kiss The Girls. In addition to both being rather talented actors, they do share a considerably strong dynamic when together. The film lags until these two finally get together about a third of the way in. The two take pretty mediocre material and make it pretty compelling at times. Still, even their considerable efforts couldn’t save the sinking ship. In the end this film never delivers on the promise the cast represents. James Caviezel isn’t the greatest actor out there, but I’ve seen him deliver far better than he does here. He’s completely unbelievable every step of the way. Amanda Peet, John Billingsly, Michael Gaston, and Bruce Davison are all actors who have given us better performances in the past. Again, I can’t help but bring it back to poor directing.
High Crimes is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. For some reason Fox decided to go with a single layer disc here, resulting in a rather bland 22 mbps average bit rate. Someone didn’t think the title was worth the extra 40 cents. The film looks no better than a very good DVD might. Certainly there are moments when the high definition sharpness and detail potential were flirted with, but the film never took it over the top. The picture was often soft. Colors were accurate and clean but never outstanding. What surprises me the most here is the lack of effort to even clean the print up here. For a relatively recent film it has a significant number of print defects, mostly dirt. The only place I could say the image excelled was occasionally the black levels were impressive and contained excellent shadow definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid for what it needs to do. This is a dialog heavy film so that there weren’t near as many problems in the audio presentation. In fact, I found some solid lows during a few of the battle flashbacks. Mostly the center and mains carry the weight. A few ambient sounds and effects fill in just enough to keep the sound from coming off as too claustrophobic.
There is an Audio Commentary with director Carl Franklin. He pontificates far too often for my tastes. He doesn’t have the most flattering view of the American military, and I get the sense that he was pushing an agenda as much as anything else. He strays from point about as much as he’s on the target. Unfortunately, the film reflects that same inability to stay focused. Carl, you were a good actor. I’ve enjoyed your work. Might be time to dip your toes back into that arena. Maybe there’s work on the new A-Team film.
All of the extras are in SD.
A Military Mystery: (7:22) Writer Finder talks about the story and the process he underwent having it turned into a film. He discusses the differences. He’s also quite understanding of the different needs of the two different media. He also discusses his cameo in the film.
FBI Take-Down In Union Square: (3:34) A look at the scene where Tom/Ron is taken into custody. It was filmed at Christmas time with real street crowds nearby.
A Different Kind Of Justice: (4:58) A lawyer who specializes in military law explains some of the basic differences between civilian court and a court martial. She goes over the terminology and the restrictions on military personnel’s rights. As a former criminal law teacher I found it rather basic, but accurate.
Liar Liar – How To Beat A Polygraph: (5:52) Ironically, the title is quite deceptive. Sue Douchette is an FBI polygraph consultant. She pretty much talks about the device, how it is used, and how some have tried to beat it. She doesn’t offer you any real strategies and pretty much says that unless you are pathological, you probably can’t beat it. So, if you were thinking about picking up this release in the hopes of getting some pointers to beat that charge you have pending, don’t.
The Car Crash: (2:04) A look at the car stunt.
Together Again: (7:31) As I’ve already mentioned, Judd and Freeman worked together before. They talk about that familiarity and how helpful it was. Cast and crew offer the typical love-fest material. It ends up becoming a profile of the two characters in the film as well as the actors.
I didn’t really dislike this film. I just didn’t really like it. I enjoyed some of the stuff between Judd and Freeman, but I never really felt like I was watching something I hadn’t already seen to death before. The film lacks any kind of an edge. I’m not sure if it was in the novel, but if it was, it got lost along the way. There are moments as if you think you’re watching stuff that was rejected for A Few Good Men. The law’s not very good, so don’t go looking for compelling courtroom drama here. Of course, that isn’t a requirement for me either. Even with a law background, I can enjoy the outrageous stuff. Yeah, okay, I can’t help pointing them out to whoever happens to be in the room, sometimes a bit too passionately. Sorry, Ellen. But I just wanna have a good time, and let’s face it, “truth is less fun than fiction”.