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Carl Franklin
Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Bruce Davison
Yuri Zeltser & Cary Bickley, based on the novel by Joseph Finder

Everything you trust. Everything you know. May be a lie...
Box Office:
Budget $42 million.
Opening weekend $14.005 million on 2717 screens.
Domestic gross $41.534 million.
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language.

Widescreen 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 9/1/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Carl Franklin
• Six Featurettes
• Theatrical Trailer


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High Crimes [Blu-Ray] (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 9, 2009)

Ashley Judd may want to get a new agent. While most actors tend to stay fairly close to a particular niche, she seems eager to totally corner the market on a certain kind of role. Judd just loves to play women backed into corners who must fight back against the odds. If there’s a script with a victimized but still strong woman in it, Judd seems poised to pounce on it. How in the world did she let J-Lo take Enough from her?

This is the category in which 2002’s High Crimes falls. Judd plays successful San Francisco attorney Claire Kubik. On the verge of becoming a partner in a high-powered firm, she also enjoys a terrific home life. She seems totally enraptured by her husband Tom (Jim Caviezel), and the pair actively pursues a pregnancy.

Unfortunately for Claire, matters take a dark turn when authorities abruptly arrest Tom. She soon learns that she’s been living a lie. Tom’s real name in Ron Chapman, and he’s a former Marine accused of murdering nine villagers in El Salvador back in 1988. He claims innocence, and asserts that Major Jim Hernandez (Juan Carlos Hernandez) did the deed. This causes potential repercussions, since Hernandez serves as the assistant to super-prominent General Marx (Bruce Davison).

When the military lawyer assigned to Tom/Ron seems too green for her liking, Claire decides to take on his case herself. In need of someone with more expertise in military proceedings, she finds iconoclastic recovering alcoholic Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman). The two pair up to take on the system, save Tom/Ron’s hide, and maybe just find out the facts behind the apparent cover-up. The latter factor brings on a lot of danger, as it seems clear many folks can’t handle the truth.

No, High Crimes doesn’t overtly steal from A Few Good Men, but occasionally it comes a little too close for comfort. For example, in one scene a character asserts “You don’t want to know the truth”.

Nonetheless, the main problems I saw in Crimes didn’t result from its similarities with Men. Instead, the film suffers simply because it seems bland and generic. As I noted, this kind of role doesn’t appear new for Judd, and the conspiracy thriller plot also comes across as fairly stale. Crimes veers dangerously close to soap opera territory at times, especially as the film progresses and the mysterious forces more strongly threaten Claire.

Frankly, I really could have lived without those action thriller elements. I enjoy legal dramas and think Crimes could have worked better had it stayed more closely to that side of things. Show more intellectual pursuits as Claire pursued the facts and deal less with threats and Crimes could have been clever and provocative. Instead, the movie seemed bland and forced much of the time. The action sequences felt tacked on and unnecessary, as if the filmmakers didn’t trust that the story could be taut and compelling simply based on the legal issues.

Crimes also might have worked better with Freeman in the lead. He offers one of the movie’s few highlights via his nicely loose and lively performance. Judd, on the other hand, seems icy and unlikable. She never brings much warmth or spark to Claire, so it becomes awfully hard to care about her plight. Her relentless parade of unappealing hairdos doesn’t help; Judd’s an attractive woman who looks consistently awful here.

Well, at least the story kept me semi-guessing. While I can’t claim the ending of High Crimes surprised me, I also didn’t think it was a totally foregone conclusion. Otherwise, not much about the film interested me. We’ve seen many films with similar subject matter, and this one failed to emerge from the crowd.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

High Crimes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it occasionally flirted with greatness, overall the transfer was a mixed bag.

Sharpness seemed good for the most part. Actually, many shots looked terrific, but those weren’t the rule. Instead, the majority of the film showed positive but unexceptional clarity, and a few bits came across as a smidgen soft. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no noticeable concerns, but I did see a little light edge enhancement at times. Source flaws popped up more frequently than expected. Throughout the film, I noticed quite a few small specks. I’d guess I witnessed about 50 of these across the whole movie; that’s not a ton, but it’s too many for such a recent movie.

Crimes offers a fairly warm and natural palette, and the disc replicated those hues well. The colors came across as accurate and vivid, and they displayed no concerns related to noise, bleeding, or other negatives. Black levels appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not overly thick. I liked a lot of the transfer, but the source flaws and minor softness made this one a “B-“.

I felt fine with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of High Crimes. Since the film mostly consisted of chatty sequences, the audio’s forward emphasis came as no surprise. In the front channels, I heard good stereo presence for the music, and effects created a nice sense of atmosphere. Showier surround effects cropped up at appropriate times, such as during Tom’s arrest and the shots in El Salvador. Those added some life to the proceedings, and the rears also contributed a good sense of general atmosphere; for example, the occasional helicopter heard during scenes on base seemed useful but not intrusive.

Audio quality came across well for the most part. Speech demonstrated a little edginess at times, but dialogue usually sounded natural and warm, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared bright and vivid, and the score demonstrated solid dynamics and fidelity. Effects also were crisp and distinct. They showed clean highs and tight lows. Bass response packed a nice punch when appropriate. Ultimately, the soundtrack of High Crimes did its job.

High Crimes presents a decent mix of extras. Up first we locate an audio commentary from director Carl Franklin, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. Franklin provides a fairly interesting track. He covers a lot of useful topics such as how he became involved with the film, variations between it and the book, locations, dealing with audience attitudes toward the military after 9/11, possible alternate endings, and quite a few other subjects. Occasional empty spaces mar the presentation, but these seem reasonably infrequent.

Some folks loathe commentaries during which the director discusses other topics or films, so I need to warn them that Franklin frequently does so here. He often strays away from Crimes itself to talk about his other flicks, and he gets into some general filmmaking theories. Personally, I think these moments seem much more interesting than the stuff related to Crimes, especially when Franklin addresses the different needs of William Hurt and Meryl Streep. Overall, I feel Franklin provides a chatty and engaging piece that loses points solely due to the number of gaps. I must admit I can’t help but wonder how such a bright and insightful guy made such an ordinary flick.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we get a collection of six different featurettes. A Military Mystery runs seven minutes, 22 seconds and consists entirely of interview snippets with novelist Joseph Finder. He tells us his reactions to the adaptation experience and how the movie differs from his text. He also comments upon his cameo in the flick and provides some notes about the story’s genre. It’s a solid chat that offers a lot of good information.

A “behind the scenes” piece, FBI Takedown In Union Square lasts three minutes, 33 seconds, and it shows the shooting of that sequence. We hear a few short comments from FBI consultant Sue Doucette, but mostly we simply watch the footage from the set. Though short, the featurette gives us a fun look at this subject.

In A Different Kind of Justice, lawyer Alice Cate discusses military courts. During the four-minute and 58-second program, she details the ways that those proceedings differ from civilian trials and gives us a nice little glossary of significant terms. Her notes help flesh out the subject and add some useful material.

Those who wish to cheat will probably feel disappointed with Liar Liar: How to Beat a Polygraph. The five-minute and 51-second featurette doesn’t really offer that much assistance for anyone who wants to lie and get away with it. Instead, FBI consultant Sue Doucette offers a primer in the use of the polygraph. She talks about what it can and cannot do, and while she indeed relates methods people use to beat it, she also covers countermeasures adopted by test administrators. As with all the preceding featurettes, this one packs a lot of good information into its short running time.

More “behind the scenes” footage appears in The Car Crash. The two-minute, four-second piece shows shots from the set and we hear some comments from director Franklin. Though brief, the clip offers a nice look at the effects used for the sequence, and I especially enjoyed a split screen presentation that displayed the raw footage alongside the final film.

The sole weak link in the featurettes area, Together Again finishes the domain with a moderate dud. The seven-minute, 31-second program includes interview material with director Franklin, producers Janet Yang and Jesse B’Franklin, and actors Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Jim Caviezel, and Adam Scott. The piece concentrates on the reunion of Freeman and Judd - they also appeared together in 1998’s Kiss the Girls - and tells us how terrific they are together. It’s fluffy and bland and lacks much useful content, though it does toss in some decent shots from the set.

While not an unenjoyable flick, High Crimes failed to do much to differentiate itself from many other legal thrillers. The movie emphasized the thriller side too heavily and didn’t bother to do much with the legal aspects. Ultimately, it seemed somewhat forced and lacked much distinctiveness. The Blu-ray provides erratic but generally positive picture, good sound, and an unspectacular but solid section of supplements. Though I have few major complaints about either, this seems like a spotty release for a mediocre film.

To rate this film, visit the original review of HIGH CRIMES

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