High Crimes

2002, Movie, PG-13, 115 mins


"Wake up and smell the napalm," says JAG-corps burnout Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) to high-powered civilian lawyer Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd), and not because it smells like victory. In Charlie's professional opinion, Claire and her client — who's also her husband (Jim Caviezel) — are screwed: They're enmeshed in a conspiracy that reaches so far up the ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps that God Almighty, Attorney at Law, couldn't negotiate a sentence reduction. Claire and Tom have a fabulous marriage, satisfying careers, a gorgeous Marin County, Calif., house and a shared desire to start a family. Then the other army boot drops: Tom is abruptly taken into FBI custody and whisked off to the San Lazaro base for a military trial. His court-appointed military counsel is a wet-behind-the-ears First Lieutenant named Embry (Adam Scott), who's up against the vastly more experienced Major Waldron (Michael Gaston). The shaken Claire is suddenly face to face with Tom's whopper of a secret past: His name isn't really Tom Kubik, it's Ron Chapman; he used to be a Marine Corps special operative; and he's wanted by the military for war crimes committed in El Salvador in 1988. The wife in Claire is confused and wounded by recent events, but the pit-bull lawyer in her doesn't hold with kangaroo courts, so she appoints herself Tom/Ron's co-counsel and recruits the wily Grimes (concerns about his history of alcoholism notwithstanding) to help her beat the stars-and-bars system. All the evidence points to Tom's guilt, and the Marine Corps is clearly determined to get the trial over with in record time. And so the race is on: Can Claire and Charlie impeach the existing evidence and uncover facts that will exonerate Tom before the USMC ties up the last loose threads of this cynical cover-up? Based (rather loosely) on the popular legal thriller by Joseph Finder, this preposterous spectacle is given a certain undeserved credibility by Freeman's consummate professionalism and portions of Judd's uneven performance — her quiet near-breakdown following a high-stakes bluff against a sleekly scary, high-ranking military muckety-muck (Bruce Davison, in reptilian mode) is devastating. But their best efforts are undermined by contrived suspense sequences, a pointless subplot involving Claire's flaky, trashy sister (Amanda Peet), and a formulaic thriller ending that's so predictable and ridiculous (almost as ridiculous as the coda is cutely upbeat) that it's hard to watch with a straight face. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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High Crimes
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