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High Crimes

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: High Crimes

Starring: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman
Director: Carl Franklin
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: April 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Jim Caviezel, Adam Scott, Bruce Davison, Amanda Peet

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Americans opposed to the bombings in Afghanistan point to the some 3,000 innocent civilians allegedly killed there during recent months. Since the statistic might be written off as collateral damage that cannot be helped, no military tribunals are to be expected to indict Americans for their role in that mishap. Not so the case of Lt. Calley, who during the Nixon administration was indicted, tried and convicted for the senseless massacre of innocent villagers during the Vietnam War. Calley was portrayed as a cold-blooded, racist fighter who had no use for Vietnamese on either side.

In its progression of events, Carl Franklin's "High Crimes" recalls the Calley case. Based on Joseph Finder's novel, which was set in Boston, "High Crimes" takes place in San Francisco, a military base in Oakland and in the Mexican state of Morelos standing in for a village in El Salvador where in 1988, during the American advisory role in that small country's civil war, nine innocent people were butchered by an American. Why the case was even brought up some twelve years after the murders is not explained, and several actions of the plot are difficult if not impossible to believe but that's the name of the game with the genre of films that portray high American officials as corrupt, eager to cover up their mistakes even at the expense of innocent Americans.

"High Crimes" is a fairly conventional story revolving around the court-martial of a loving guy living the good life in California's Marin County. As is typical there are twists, though the principal one can probably be figured out by fans of the genre. What makes the movie absorbing throughout is the strong performance of Ashley Judd in the role of successful trial lawyer Claire Kubik, a woman not only familiar enough with the law to get her clients off on technicalities if need be but one who is forceful enough to persist until she gets her way. She'd have to be that sort to pursue her latest case, given the many times she is beaten up, in one case almost dying when a bad guy succeeds in plunging her with her car over a cliff. Then again, Claire is defending her husband, Tom Kubik (Jim Caviezel), a loving family man who is in full agreement with Claire's desire for a baby. He's the sort of man-next-door, possibly given to stuttering or looking at his feet when he talks, that we want to see cleared of a difficulty he now finds himself in.

While Tom's court-martial is the focal point of the movie, most of the action, fortunately, takes place outside the judicial chambers, beginning when Tom is arrested by a contingent of military police on a busy San Francisco street and charged with the murder of nine Salvadorians a dozen years before. When a wimpy young attorney who has never won a case, Embry (Adam Scott), is assigned to defend Tom, Claire realizes that some intervention is needed, particularly since she may have seen enough movies to realize that military justice is an oxymoron. While Embry is busy being seduced by Claire's good-time sister Jackie (Amanda Peet), Claire locates crackerjack lawyer Grimes (Morgan Freeman), who has lately been out of the action because of his fondness for the juice.

"High Crimes" could not have been better cast. Ashley Judd looks better than even with a short haircut, the snappy attire of an advocate bucking for partner, and her give and take with Morgan Freeman displays all the chemistry we'd want from such a team. A supporting cast includes Bruce Davison as Brig. General Marks and Juan Carlos Hernandez as Major Hernandez, two bureaucrats of the sort that we in the audience have learned to hate knowing, as we do, how power corrupts the honchos in the FBI, the CIA, and the heads of the various divisions of the armed forces. "High Crimes" is good, escapist entertainment, at times too predictable, but more than watchable because of its stellar bunch of performers.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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