When a criminal lawyer must defend her husband in a military court for crimes he may or may not have committed, she ends up risking not only her career, but her life as well, in her quest to find the truth.
If you've seen Jagged Edge, A Few Good Men and The Verdict, then you basically know the plot line of High Crimes. Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd), a high-powered criminal attorney, and her husband,Tom (Jim Caviezel), live an idyllic life until Tom is accosted by the FBI and taken into custody. The charge? Fifteen years ago, he was once a covert military operative named Ron Chapman, and he allegedly murdered civilians in El Salvador. Even though Claire is shocked to discover the man she thought she was married to is actually someone else, she believes Tom's claim that he is being set up by greater military powers to cover up a larger top-secret operation. As if this would actually happen, Claire decides to defend her husband in the military court after an inexperienced attorney (Adam Scott) is assigned to the case. She also elicits the help of an ex-marine lawyer Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman), who is now a recovering alcoholic and self-proclaimed ''wild card.'' You can see where this is going, right? Claire and Grimes have to fight the big bad military honchos, risking life and limb to clear Tom's name--but ultimately the two find out who the real enemy is.
It's obvious Judd and Freeman wanted to work together again after their successful pairing in the 1997 film Kiss the Girls--and rightfully so. These two actors know one another well and seemed to have genuine respect and admiration for each other, which shows on screen. The film, however, is really only worth seeing for Freeman's performance, since Judd is just rehashing her Double Jeopardy/Kiss The Girls persona--strong yet vulnerable, smart and determined to win. Yawn. Freeman, on the other hand, continues to be a marvel in whatever part he plays. In the aftermath of the Academy Awards, now that the film industry has finally acknowledged our talented black actors, it seems a shame this man has never won an Oscar. Maybe it's the movies he keeps choosing--like this one. Still, as Grimes, he manages to move past his clichéd role and shows us a man coping with alcoholism. The scenes where he goes off the wagon are superbly played out. The rest of the cast fill out the plot adequately with Scott as the ''greenhorn'' attorney and Amanda Peet as Claire's spacey sister putting in the best of the supporting performances.
To his credit as a decent director, Carl Franklin (One False Move) knows how to create suspense. Even in this rehash of every other courtroom drama that we know of, Franklin is able to give High Crimes a few tense moments where you jump out of your seat--but overall, the film unfortunately just falls right into cliché formulas again and again. Like The Verdict, we have Grimes whose been on hard times, and if he wins just one high profile case, he'll get the respect he deserves. There's the whole A Few Good Men military scenario with the all-powerful general (played by Bruce Davison) covering up some covert operation. At one point, Claire talks about putting the general on the stand, but thankfully, we are spared that comparison (think Davison could yell ''You can't handle the truth!'' just as commanding as Jack Nicholson?). Finally, we have the Jagged Edge comparison--is Kubik/Chapman innocent victim or evil perpetrator? Crimes offers nothing new.
To see the chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd is one thing, but if you are looking for a new spin on the tense courtroom drama, High Crimes isn't it.