April 11, 2002

Crime Against Nature

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It’s tragic to see great actors brought low by mediocre films. This is exactly what happens to veteran actor and multiple Oscar-nominee Morgan Freeman in his latest theatrical appearance, High Crimes. This courtroom-thriller is a slave to formula, and the only real mystery it confounds viewers with is when it will end.

Defense attorney Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) has it all; a successful career, a beautiful home, and a loving husband. Her world shatters, however, when she discovers her husband, Tom (James Caviezel), isn’t who he seems. Tom has been charged by the U.S. military with killing innocent civilians in Central America. Claire leaps to the defense of her husband, aided by talented but disgraced attorney Charles Grimes (Morgan Freeman). As the case progresses, Claire discovers evidence that makes her question her place as a lawyer and a wife.

For a movie attempting to be a courtroom-suspense-mystery-drama, High Crimes is about as tense as a frat boy after smoking a joint. Director Carl Franklin tries to convince us that there’s a deadly military conspiracy threatening to engulf Judd, but the scenes lack any palpable sense of fear or menace. This is largely due to Franklin’s seeming inability to use dramatic camera angles effectively, and a musical score that sounds like the composer’s training consisted of reading Movie Soundtracks for Dummies. Complicating matters are the scenes where High Crimes tries to be cute and witty. While good for a smile or two, they hamper the film’s attempt to create a suspenseful or dramatic atmosphere.

High Crimes also suffers from the same problems as Along Came a Spider, the last mediocre movie Freeman appeared in. Both movies attempt a surprise shocking ending, but it unfortunately comes out of nowhere and the end result is one large mess. Sure, the ending’s twisty, but it’s twisty in a bad way that’s painful to look at — like a shattered knee-cap or a 15-car pile-up.

Judd and Caviezel provide good, if unremarkable performances. Meanwhile, Amanda Peet’s and Adam Scott’s characters (Claire’s sister and a military lawyer, respectively) give new meaning to the term “supporting actor,” as they exist for no reason other than providing someone for Judd’s character to shoot her mouth off to. Franklin should have just had Judd yell at a brick wall and save some money.

Freeman plays his usual role, the experienced hotshot who, but for one or two flaws, would have achieved greatness. The only problem with his character is that he doesn’t appear enough. Just as Claire waits for Charles to sweep in and save the day, the viewer waits for Freeman to sweep in and save this movie.

One does have to wonder, though (alright, there’s two mysteries associated with this film), why Freeman appeared in this movie. Is this how good actors go about slumming? High Crimes’ producer probably stood on top a highrise threatening to jump, and Freeman, being the humanitarian that he is, agreed to do the movie. Freeman should have thought about the bigger picture, though, and tried to spare us all some deep hurting by doing everything he could to stop High Crimes from being made.

Archived article by Matt Chock