Judge Gordon Sullivan is quite sure of his verdict, thank you.
Proof is the burden.
Humans like rules, especially when they give us a sense of genre. Whether you love vampire movies or hate them, you know what to expect, that certain rules will be followed. Perhaps that helps explain the continuing popularity of the legal thriller. The courtroom aspects lend a certain set of rules to the dramatic proceedings, giving audiences and air of expectation. We can judge characters by how well they work within the limits of the Constitution and other frameworks as well. The genre gets bonus points for having rules that might have some applicability outside the movie, too (unlike all that vampire lore that most of us know). Though perhaps it's the well-defined rules that have made the genre so hard to get right. Legal thrillers have been on the wane recently, with only a handful of hits and a whole lot of misses. We can add Reasonable Doubt the latter category, since not even an unhinged Samuel L. Jackson can save this film.
Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper, The Duchess) is a hotshot prosecutor in Chicago preparing for his next big promotion. He celebrates a little too hard with the guys. On his way home, he runs a guy over. Though he calls 911, he does nothing else to take responsibility for his actions. The next day, Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson, The Avengers) is accused of the crime, with the hit-and-run victim found in his car. Though Clinton claims he was trying to save the man, Mitch is eager to prosecute this stranger to deflect blame from himself. When another man is implicated in the crime and Clinton gets off, he makes it his mission to learn all he can about Mitch. Clinton, though, has a secret of his own, and his behavior backs Mitch into a wall.
With most films, it's pretty easy to figure out where it all went wrong. Maybe the lead is miscast, or the script is terrible or the budget too low. With Reasonable Doubt, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly what's going on. Certainly, director Peter Howitt (who helmed Sliding Doors and Antitrust) took his name off the project. This usually signals a disagreement between studio and director, so undoubtedly there's a problem there. Then there's the script, which can't ever decide what it wants to be. Partly it's about the downfall of a prideful man (Mitch), but it's also about a crazy dude killing people (Clinton), with some courtroom drama in the middle.
The right cast could have maybe brought it all together, but Dominic Cooper just isn't right for the lead. Mitch is supposed to be a Midwestern guy with working class roots struggling to clean his blue collar to white. The role demands a fresh-faced guy who's attractive in that All-American way. Instead, Cooper is pretty—and foreign—which doesn't help sell the realism of a guy who grew up in the Midwest. His accent isn't terrible, but he's working so hard to make that transition from British English to American English that he often struggles with conveying anything else. That his character is underdeveloped doesn't help matters much.
Amazingly, Reasonable Doubt (Blu-ray) is strong. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is generally strong. Detail is sharp throughout, colors skew a bit blue but are appropriately saturated, and black levels are deep and consistent. There aren't any significant problems with digital manipulation or authoring errors. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is similarly impressive. Mitch's courtroom speeches come through loud and clear from the front, while the surrounds get a workout during more suspenseful scenes that need to establish atmosphere.
Extras are surprisingly extensive for a film that's been disowned by its director. They start with standard EPK-style featurette and also include a number of deleted scenes. The bulk of the extras are three interviews with stars Cooper, Jackson, and Gloria Reuben. An Ultraviolet digital copy is also included.
The only person who comes out of Reasonable Doubt unscathed is Samuel L. Jackson. It's the kind of role he can do in his sleep as Clinton morphs from put-upon everyman to wild-eyed psycho. He's done this before, and his turn here is no worse than it's ever been, even if we've seen it before. It's not surprising that he's prominent in the promotional materials, as the major audience for this film is going to be fans of Jackson's brand of insanity.
Reasonable Doubt is a pretty terrible excuse for a thriller that never quickens the pulse or leaves the viewer wondering. Everything from the script to the casting conspires to make this one forgettable, and unless you're a big fan of Samuel L. Jackson, there's nothing to tempt you to this surprisingly good Blu-ray.
There's not much doubt: guilty.
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