Crimes stole the show!

By this, I don’t mean that it was an incredible film with a super-interesting plot. Nor do I mean that it had any breakthrough performances. Instead I consider it a “stolen show,” and a mediocre one at that.

Having the plots of “Double Jeopardy,” “A Few Good Men” and “What Lies Beneath” neatly wrapped into one, as well as starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd opposite each other — for what seems to be the umpteenth time — does a real disservice to a film that may otherwise have been wholly entertaining. With all of its potential — as a well-structured thriller with quality actors — the final product is a trite film with a scarcity of charming moments.

The plot is simple. Like many of its predecessors, it’s essentially a fairy tale gone awry, about a woman living the perfect life with her seemingly perfect husband, until she learns the truth. Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) is a successful lawyer, married to Tom Kubik (James Caviezel) a romantic and devoted husband. But both of their lives are suddenly turned upside down when Tom is arrested on murder charges linked to his mysterious past in the military, a past from which Claire is far removed.

Suddenly, no longer defending the usual cast of criminals to which she’s accustomed, Claire unearths her husband’s dark past as his legal defender. Supported by Charles Grimes (Morgan Freeman), an alcoholic and semi-dysfunctional, yet nevertheless top-notch military lawyer, Claire’s development becomes predictable.

Claire is a powerful woman, defeating many of her male counterparts in legal cases. Yet, despite the bravado and power that make her character charming, she inevitably falls victim to Hollywood’s encoding systems. Hollywood films generally position male characters in leading roles and females in supporting ones. Although this film posits itself as a film revolving around a female protagonist, it becomes typically Hollywood in the way its characters are constructed. The moment Tom moves out of his home and into prison, Freeman’s character comes in to compensate. Therefore, in short, Freeman’s character serves to secure the familial dynamics that are displaced when Tom is displaced. Hence, Judd as an independent woman becomes undermined in the ways she is constantly juxtaposed to Freeman as a wittier, and far more quick-thinking man.

The film isn’t entirely problematic. In fact the coupling of Freeman and Judd for a second time — after their roles in “Kiss the Girls” — saves the film just as much as it hurts it. Their chemistry is amazing, and this is certainly the reason director Carl Franklin chose them for the roles. Still, actors can only do so much.

A film is an entire product, made up of its parts, actors, script, director, etc. But these things don’t work together quite as successfully as the producers of this film must have had hoped. Audiences will certainly agree that the structure of the story is perfect, giving just the right amount of information at just the right times. Similarly, the acting seems impeccable, as does the cinematography. But despite all of these good parts, the whole falls short. This is because the film seems too familiar. Because it is a mere conglomeration of other films with the same actors, audiences will find it difficult to suspend their disbelief enough to make the film entertaining.

Maybe I shouldn’t be expecting much more than an archetypal thriller, but I did. After a great lineup of films recently nominated for Academy Awards, I feel like Hollywood has been working toward some smart, nuanced and quality approaches to filmmaking. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t quite go there. But, as college students, sometimes anything can entertain us. So, if you just want get your head out of the books for an evening as the semester winds down, then by all means see “High Crimes.” The highest crime is really the price of movie tickets these days. And have you seen how much it costs for a small bag of popcorn?