Latest Morgan Freeman thriller mixes suspense with soap opera
High Crimes, a mishmash of a thriller, wobbles between serious drama and pulpy crime stories. At times it comes on like a prestige vehicle for Ashley Judd, and at others it looks like a funky genre piece for Morgan Freeman. But it’s also a sub-Hitchcockian exercise in suspense freighted down with pseudo-topical characterizations.
Judd plays a perkily competitive lawyer whose husband, a U.S. Marine played by Jim Caviezel, is charged with murder in a military court. Freeman plays an alcoholic lawyer and ex-Marine who collaborates with her in defending the husband’s case. What ensues is part political thriller, part murder mystery and part psychodrama, with too little of it adding up to anything substantial.
The murder charges derive from an incident in El Salvador, and the trail of evidence seems to indicate that the husband is the victim of a conspiracy and cover-up. But Tom Kubik (Caviezel) has kept part of his past hidden from his wife, and she is soon finding reasons to doubt the trustworthiness of the men who are ostensibly helping her (Freeman as well as a baby-faced Marine attorney played by Adam Scott).
Carl Franklin, who made a name for himself with One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress, directs all this with zesty efficiency once the suspense really gains momentum. But the business of setting it all up is clunky and belabored, especially the fawning establishment of Judd’s brash lawyer/doting wife/trash-talking billiards player/mother-to-be as tough-guy heroine and post-feminist role model.
Then there’s Freeman’s obligatory battle with demon alcohol, a sitcom sibling rivalry (Judd’s smart-mouthed younger sister Jackie, played by Amanda Peet), a car crash that terminates the lawyer/wife’s pregnancy, a romance between Jackie and the baby-faced Marine, a wraithlike Salvadoran who keeps turning ominously up at crucial moments. It’s now a lurid wedding between soap opera and the paranoid thriller.