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MRQE Top Critic

Operation Condor

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones —Andrea Birgers (review...)

Chan borrows from Raiders

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Wherever they found my audience for High Crimes, they hit the jackpot. My audience was laughing at all the right places and yelling advice to the characters on the screen and gasping and ohhing as if on cue.

If only I had enjoyed it as well as the people behind me.

Something Fishy

Judd and Freeman, the next Hepburn & Tracy?High Crimes looks like a courtroom drama, but it unfolds like a mystery. Ron (Jim Caviezel) has been arrested, and his wife Claire (Ashley Judd), an up-and-coming lawyer, must try to get him off. She enlists the help of former Navy lawyer Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman).

The charge is murder, and the case will be tried in a military court. Ron is accused of killing seven villagers in what is called the Las Colinas Massacre. A Marine at the time, Ron is said to have overstepped his authority when he killed the villagers.

But the case is fishy. The “eyewitness” accounts seem to have been coerced and many of the witnesses have mysteriously died. It seems the real culprit was acting under the orders of then-Colonel Bill Marks, a man who has risen in rank and is now a high-level advisor to the president.

Casting a pall of doubt over the case is Ron himself, who until his arrest was known to his wife as Tom. In the intervening years he’d changed his name, his identity, his whole persona.

Great Performances

Speaking of Tom/Ron, he might look familiar if you’ve seen The Count of Monte Cristo. Together, he and Judd don’t share much chemistry. They’re a much less interesting duo than Judd and Freeman. Then again, there’s not much any actor could have done with this character any more than Caviezel did.

Judd, (last “seen” on the radio call-in show Car Talk), also performs well. She has less room to move because she’s the maguffin, the character driving the action. She doesn’t get to be as colorful as Freeman. Nevertheless, she keeps the movie going, and in one or two key scenes, she really performs.

Amanda Peet plays Claire’s sister. She appears to have a good time being a little nutty and a little slutty. She can’t resist a man in uniform. She moves in with Claire because she was evicted, and having her around gives the movie a nice texture. She’s a welcome contrast to the all-business Judd/Freeman team who are focused on getting Tom/Ron exonerated, or at least acquitted.

Morgan Freeman is wonderful. His character is also a lawyer, but one who is getting older, who never made it big, and who lives in poverty. Hollywood is notorious for getting “poverty” wrong, but Freeman looks poor, lives poor, dresses poor, and is a believable next-door neighbor, without giving up his actor’s charisma and charm.

Hepburn & Tracy?

Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman could very well be this generation’s Hepburn and Tracy. Their chemistry is more platonic than sexual, and they don’t have the friendly antagonism Hepburn and Tracy shared, but this is their second collaboration. Maybe we’re seeing my generation’s first acting team, something we don’t see much anymore outside of comedy troupes. Interesting as that idea may be to contemplate, the trouble is that Judd & Freeman always seem to choose mediocre material to work with. Kiss The Girls was a sub-par thriller that made me skip its sequel, and this film has trouble too. Its story is conventional and there is not much chance for interaction between two leads.

Just Another Mystery

To me, murder mystery novels are all the same. They have a predictable texture, a consistent patter, that make them indistinguishable from one another. Sure, each author has her own favorite setting or character quirks, but that doesn’t interest me. Mystery is one genre I don’t like straight.

Although High Crimes is partly a courtroom drama, it still has the feel of a mystery novel. Clues are revealed one at a time to our heroes and to the audience. An obligatory red herring or two throw us off the track before the final outcome is revealed.

My prejudice about all mysteries being the same is reinforced by High Crimes, a by-the-numbers mystery/courtroom drama for the Matlock crowd. I didn’t actually dislike it, but it is conventional, innocuous, and cinematically uninteresting. I feel as though I could have watched just about any TV movie of the week and gotten as much from it (except for the great performances by the stars).


So I am disappointed at the conventionality of High Crimes. And yet, I’m not sure I can fault it for being what it is. It sets out to entertain its target audience – the baby-boomer mystery readers — and it gives them exactly what they want and expect. In that sense, High Crimes is a success. It’s a little bland for my particular taste, but there are lots of readers out there who will probably laugh at the right places, yell advice to the characters on screen and gasp and ohh on cue.