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High Crimes


High Crimes

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The latest in what's threatening to become, after Kiss The Girls, a series of Ashley Judd/Morgan Freeman paperback thrillers, High Crimes floats a few compelling quandaries about trust, morality, and military justice around the edges of a typical beach/airplane reader. Set mostly on a rough-and-tumble marine base in Orange County, the film could have served as a lightning rod in the current political climate, by popularizing its dim view of military trials and the atmosphere of fraternity and conspiracy that can make justice impossible. But coming from director Carl Franklin, who specializes in richly evocative mysteries like 1991's One False Move and 1995's Devil In A Blue Dress, High Crimes is a major disappointment that lacks the courage to follow through on its premise's themes. Chained to one of those overcranked plots with a twist that negates everything that came before it, Franklin gives himself over entirely to Judd and Freeman, who by now can sleepwalk their way through the rote woman-in-peril theatrics. A high-powered San Francisco defense attorney with a beautiful home, a loving marriage, and a baby on the way, Judd has her domestic bliss shattered when an ordinary burglary leads government agents to arrest her husband (Jim Caviezel) for war atrocities committed 13 years earlier. Shuttled to the base for the court-martial hearing, Judd decides to defend him from charges that he murdered nine innocent El Salvadoran villagers, convinced that a sinister cover-up is being perpetrated by his commanding officer (Bruce Davison) and members of his unit. Unschooled in strict military proceedings, Judd hires local attorney Freeman to show her the ropes, but he's dogged by problems of his own, including a spotty history with the base and the bottle. High Crimes turns on some dramatically potent questions: How much do even the closest people really know each other? What are the consequences of trust? Beyond saving her husband, does Judd have a responsibility to pursue justice for the victims? High Crimes contains plenty of exciting courtroom-drama material, thanks to the hostile and inequitable forum, where access to crucial documents is forbidden, the defendant's rights are limited, and plainclothes attorneys are accorded no leverage. But at every opportunity, Franklin spikes up the action, adding home invasions, stalkers, violent assaults, an outrageous chase scene, and a crateload of red herrings. By the time it reaches an arbitrary and illogical (yet predictable) conclusion, High Crimes has so thoroughly betrayed itself that it doesn't really matter what happens.