High Crimes (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ashley Judd plays a successful lawyer with a great marriage. At least it appeared to be a great marriage until one day when her husband was unexpectedly arrested and hauled off in the middle of Christmas shopping by about a dozen heavily armed federal agents. The arrest occurred because of a Marine Corps accusation that hubby is actually a completely different man, a deserter who slaughtered some villagers in El Salvador more than a decade earlier.

I can't tell you much more without betraying the surprises in the plot. Judd resolves to defend her husband, hires an associate who understands military justice (Morgan Freeman), and the investigation is on. The plot hinges on (1) whether Judd's husband is who the USMC says he is (2) who actually murdered those villagers (3) why the village was invaded by American soldiers in the first place.

In the course of the investigation and trial, Judd seems to be targeted by a military conspiracy as well as by the relatives of the people who were killed that day. She can't seem to trust anyone. The attorney assigned to her husband by the Corps seems to be part of the conspiracy. The witnesses all seem to have died or have been asked to lie. The judge seems to discard critical and irrefutable evidence. The conspiracy seems to go up very high, to a general whose stature seems to be comparable to that of Colin Powell.


None. It could easily have been an R-rated movie, but it was edited carefully to facilitate a PG-13, even though there are several sexy scenes and teases.
  • Ashley Judd appears braless in a t-shirt, wearing shorts that show the bottom of her buns.
  • Amanda Peet appears in t-shirts and a skimpy bikini bottom twice, and her coat comes open once to reveal some of her breast, but no nipple.
  • Two hookers come close to exposure in deep cleavage and short shorts.
  • There is a scene in a stripper bar, but it is filmed to avoid exposure.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Carl Franklin

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • Six new featurettes

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

I enjoyed the film as it was developing, but when all the mysteries had unraveled, I thought back on it and realized that some of the points along the way didn't seem to make sense once the solution was known. Some details seemed to be there only to distract us, like magician's patter.

On the other hand, I re-watched the film and found that the simple undeniable solution to the mystery was buried early in the film in an innocent moment. I like that. To me the earmark of a good mystery is that you can solve it if you really pay attention to all the details. That's a plus, even though I missed that detail the first time through.

There is another big plus. Although the script is full of the kind of contrivances and red herrings that typically mark the genre, the cast and crew pull it all of with brio, centered around director Carl Franklin, and the two main stars, Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. If you like this kind of film, you'll find that everyone works to deliver this one with consummate professionalism. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars, spread widely. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4, Apollo 73/100, filmcritic.com 1.5/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: the studio had high hopes for their 442 million investment, and opened it on a near-blockbuster level of 2700 screens. Its performance was mediocre. It did a solid but unspectacular $42 million domestic gross, and will probably settle in as a break-even type of film unless it scores big in the rental market.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Not original or groundbreaking, but a solid, workmanlike thriller with good stars and pacing.

Return to the Movie House home page