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Cinema Felony

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High Crimes (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

While Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd repeat their successful screen chemistry after Kiss the Girls (1997), the narrative twist that concludes High Crimes comes as a reprehensibly cheap device that perverts the film's scathing commentary on the U.S. military and its terribly flawed military court system.

Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) is a successful San Francisco power attorney working diligently on making a baby with her ideal husband Tom (Jim Caviezel, Pay It Forward) until his shocking Christmastime arrest by FBI officials turns their world upside down. It turns out that Tom's real name is Ron Chapman, he's a former U.S. Marine and he's accused of murdering nine civilians in El Salvador 12 years ago. Claire becomes convinced of her husband's innocence and chooses to defend his case before the marine military court. Upon meeting her husband's inexperienced military attorney, Claire enlists the help of former ace military attorney Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) as a "wild card" to help free her blameless husband.

It seems that high-ranking military officials have framed Chapman for a slaughter that was actually committed by nut case Major Hernandez (Juan Carlos Hernandez) who, it's revealed, had already carried out the assassination that his troops were sent into the village to complete. Charlie and Claire suffer many brutal acts of intimidation and surveillance by military forces while trying everything under the sun to win in a court system where every outcome is decided in advance. The film's message is clear: the U.S. military court system, and the U.S. military itself, is a despicably corrupt organization acting impudently within its own heavily protected layers of bureaucracy.

As the trial nears its end, an attempt to murder Charlie and Claire by unseen forces extends the pressure against the defense beyond the pale of simple lawlessness and into the realm of attempted civilian assassination by its own government. At this point the audience has been worked into a frenzy of loathing for the U.S. military by the film's use of heavily skewed narrative equivocation. You can firmly sense how effective cinema is as an exploitation device with the outrage that the movie so actively stirs.

And then the film flip-flops with not one but two dubious endings. That way, the filmmakers get the double payday of pandering out another good ol' Hollywood surprise climax while gallantly retracting any bad intentions they might have paraded against the U.S. military over the course of the movie. I've never seen anything like it in the more than 4,000 movies I've seen and I hope I never see it again.

Just as William S. Burroughs revealed over 30 years ago, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted."

-- Cole Smithey

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