Case Number 17301: Small Claims Court


Fox // 2002 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // September 21st, 2009

The Charge

Everything you trust. Everything you know. May be a lie...

The Case

Just how well do we really know our loved ones? That's the question High Crimes poses, although it hardly explores the issue with anything approaching depth; I've seen episodes of Melrose Place with more insight into the human condition. Hotshot defense lawyer Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd, Heat) has the world on a string, knocking down cases with a mixture of resolve and compassion and being greeted with practically a standing ovation when she gets back to her office. She and her woodworking husband Tom (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ) are trying for a baby, and they enjoy long walks and Christmas shopping. All that changes when an FBI tactical team assaults the couple on the street, taking Tom into custody and telling Claire he's scheduled for trial -- military trial. This comes as a bit of a shock to her, unaware as she is of her husband's previous military service. It seems Tom -- not his real name -- has been trying to avoid prosecution for some rather heinous crimes committed in El Salvador, charges he claims he's innocent of, but his past has caught up with him and now he faces the death penalty. Claire takes on the case, enlisting the help of a grizzled ex-alcoholic military lawyer named Charles W. Grimes (Morgan Freeman, The Dark Knight) to help her grasp the nuances of this alternate justice system. Dark forces seem to be conspiring against them, though, and soon Claire's fighting for her own life, too.

If all that sounds a little melodramatic, it should, because it is. High Crimes is the cinematic equivalent of a beach novel: it's sensational while playing it safe, telegraphs its "shocking" twists from the first frame on, and is about as gritty as a Slip-N-Slide. Freeman's character, being an ex-alcoholic, will obviously fall off the wagon at some point (or alcoholism wouldn't be part of his character), yet the terrible result of that plunge back down the rabbit hole is that he misses a phone call. A brief chat with Claire and he's back on the straight and narrow, ready to turn his attention back to saving the day. The movie is harmless entertainment that challenges the viewer as little as possible, yet is structured around a storyline worldly enough so as not to insult one's intelligence.

Director Carl Franklin has done some great movies, One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress being the standouts of his filmography, so it would make you wonder what would draw him to material as populist as High Crimes. There's something to be said for lightweight fare, though, and I can imagine High Crimes was an awful lot of fun to work on. The actors seem to be enjoying each other and chewing up their roles, unconcerned with tempering their more theatrical impulses in the name of realism. No one had to delve too deep or stretch too far (with the exception of Caviezel -- the man is unrelentingly intense, and scenes where he gets emotional seem to briefly vault the film into a different weight class), and they probably all went out for beers afterward. That kind of congeniality comes through in the final product, and makes High Crimes a guilty pleasure that will please the crowds.

Sadly, the 1080p high-definition transfer on this Blu-ray doesn't quite live up to today's benchmarks. Not that it's especially bad -- color reproduction is solid, the image has a fair bit of depth, and there's no glaring edge enhancement. Fine detail, however, is lacking: faces look somewhat smoothed over, lacking the pores and well-defined stubble we've come to expect from this glorious format. This slight waxiness is a telltale sign of overly judicious use of Digital Noise Reduction, which also explains the almost complete lack of grain. High Crimes absolutely looks better than it did on DVD, but is one of the less impressive Blu-ray discs I've seen. The audio quality is about average, with a broad dynamic range that comes to life during the short, punchy action sequences. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, although it lacks the natural timbre of the best Blu-ray has to offer. Still, I have no complaints with this soundtrack.

The disc comes fairly packed with special features, starting with an engaging and enjoyable audio commentary by director Carl Franklin. Franklin was an actor before he was a director, and speaks a bit about the ways that experience bears on the material he picks to direct and the way he works, along detailing the development of the piece, casting, etc. A number of featurettes are also included, covering the way a polygraph works, differences between military and civilian law, the shooting of a couple of key scenes, and the partnership of Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. Each runs around seven or eight minutes.

The Verdict

High Crimes is not quite generic, but it's not terribly ambitious, either. I think it's exactly the kind of movie it wants to be, though, and for that reason it's not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel MacDonald; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb