Trust on Trial
Right in the middle of High Crimes, a courtroom thriller starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, applause burst through the theater at the screening I attended. Women in the audience couldn’t resist clapping after Judd’s character warns a pompous general, "See if you can survive me!" Playing an attorney who discovers secrets in her husband’s past while defending him against murder charges in a military hearing, Judd emerges as a female version of David battling Goliath.
Although David counted on a slingshot for help, the persistent Claire Kubik (Judd) recruits a wild card named Charles Grimes (Freeman) to assist her. Grimes, who has expertise in the area of military legal proceedings, is willing to stir things up a bit among the officers involved. But he’s also a recovering alcoholic, so there’s a chance he might stir up more than the military establishment.
In contrast to the very "in charge" Alex Cross, a criminologist portrayed by Freeman in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, Grimes is more like a senior Hell’s Angel on valium. Clad in leather, riding a motorcycle, flirting with call girls --- but behaving in the courtroom like a laid-back Matlock, Grimes is a new type of role for Freeman, whose hypnotic voice always reels me in no matter who he plays. One of the two best scenes in High Crimes shows an inebriated Grimes urging Claire to have a drink with him. "I can’t; I’m trying to get pregnant," she says. "Well I’m not trying to get pregnant," Grimes replies while staggering into another room. Freeman is so convincing here, I could almost smell the alcohol on his breath.
Judd and Freeman worked together before in Kiss the Girls, but High Crimes is a much better thriller because of its intriguing twists and turns. Deft direction by Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress) accents the film’s unpredictable developments. And I’m surprised at how much Judd’s acting has improved since Kiss the Girls. She’s responsible for the second outstanding scene in High Crimes. Getting into a car late at night with a stranger who might have information about her husband’s alleged crime, Claire wonders if she’s done the right thing. Judd’s worried facial expressions and tense body language convinced me of Claire’s fear and uncertainty. Sometimes a superb performance like this isn’t recognized when such a beautiful actress is involved. I hope that’s not the case here.
I’m tempted to write more about the riveting plot of High Crimes, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I can report, however, that most of the film’s suspense revolves around whether or not Claire’s husband (James Caviezel) committed the crimes with which he’s charged. If he’s innocent, why did he change his name? Who is killing so many witnesses? Is there a military cover-up going on? How do prosecutors know everything about the legal strategy planned by Claire and Grimes?
Although Caviezel provides adequate support to Judd and Morgan, this is not his best work. He’s almost lackadaisical in a couple of courtroom sequences. Guess I expected more from the handsome actor after being spellbound by his charismatic portrayal of The Count of Monte Cristo. Amanda Peet, as Claire’s sexy sister, also disappointed me. Her few scenes in High Crimes fail to showcase the comic talent she displayed so hilariously as the wannabe hit-woman in The Whole Nine Yards.
Highlighting the dynamics of broken trust, High Crimes delivers a message about the importance of honesty in any marital relationship. But, most of all, this suspenseful movie is a highly entertaining thriller.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for violence, sexual content, and language.)