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"High Crimes"

Directed by Carl Franklin.
Written by Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley. 
Starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  4/11/02 


For the first time in what feels like years, I saw a movie with more than one other person.  In fact, when my friends Melissa, Danielle, Andrew and Jascha all came with me to see tonight's showing of "High Crimes", I felt like I was at a friggin' party!

Except, like the classic bad college party that ran outta booze around 10:30, "High Crimes" was a pretty shitty party.  Where do I start?  Ashley Judd (hot) and Morgan Freeman (grandpa) reprise roles that they have played before, in better films with better scripts, better co-stars and better endings.  This time, Judd is playing a lawyer that is pissed off, not just a housewife or an girlfriend or an ex-wife.  She is married to a man (Jim Caviezel, "The Thin Red Line") that may or may not have killed nine innocent Salvadorans in a conflict over ten years ago.  When this man is arrested in the streets of San Francisco, Judd's lawyer must face a contingent of military court officials to save her husband...but, she needs help from


played by Freeman.  In case you hadn't already guessed, Freeman's character has a "rugged past", which includes alcohol abuse and banging other officers' wives.  And, as you can probably imagine, Freeman must "overcome his problems" in order to save Caviezel from his fate.

How formulaic is this film?  Let's start with where it is based--mostly in San Francisco and at a military base somewhere in California.  So, in the first ten minutes of the film, director Carl Franklin does an excellent job of covering every single touristy aspect of my current residence:  shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, Union Square, trolleycars, and the wind blowing.  Now that I live here, and that I have seen three or four films now that have been based here, I am amazed at how uncreative Hollywood types are at covering areas not on postcards sent from here.  Even "The X-Files" got some shots in of places not called Georgetown in their movie version of the TV show (set in DC); could they get one shot of the Mission District or Candlestick Park in "High Crimes"?  One?

For my money, this movie might be the only film in history to actually try and take a little smidgen from every courtroom drama ever made.  In fact, it will be noted here that Danielle--just after the credits started to roll--tried desperately to think of all the movies that were EXACTLY LIKE "High Crimes"; my vote was the recent Sam Jackson drama "Rules of Engagement", which was a piece of shit as well.  It features the surprise witness, the attack on the good guys at the good guys' place of residence, menacing-looking cars that drive by the good guys' residence, and of course, the witness cover-up scene.

The one thing that this film does not have--and, now that I think about it, this might have made "High Crimes" respectable--is the Heroic Closing Argument.  The best Heroic Closing Argument I have ever seen is still also my favorite, the Cruise/Nicholson standoff in "A Few Good Men."  Every time that movie is on TV, I'll watch it just to see that one scene.  I read an interview with director Rob Reiner once in some men's magazine, and he was waxing poetic about how Nicholson did the scene 35 or 40 times in one day with the exact same intensity level each time.  Scary.

Nothing in "High Crimes" even compares to "A Few Good Men", though.  The worst offense?  Hard to say.  It might be Freeman's performance--the man stopped acting after starring in "Clean and Sober", over ten years ago; he now just shows up on set and asks the director, "What's the name of my good guy, advice-spewing old partner character THIS time?"  This characterizes, with varying degrees of success, his roles in the following films (I had to look them all up to be sure):  "Glory", "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", "Unforgiven", "The Shawshank Redemption", "Se7en", "Chain Reaction", "Amistad", "Nurse Betty", and the upcoming "The Sum of All Fears."

Or, maybe it's the shitty ending?  The horrific score?  Amanda Peet, on a career heading straight to video?  Fat whores in spandex (not one, but two of them)?  So many choices, so little time!  Judd and Caviezel are a nice couple to look at...but, they can't save this mess.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09