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Movie Review

Claire Kubik loves her life. She’s a successful San Francisco attorney poised to accept a partnership in her high-profile law firm. She’s married to Tom, a loving, handsome man with whom she’s eager to have a child. But all of that security and tranquility implode when Tom gets arrested and charged with first-degree murder. It seems back in 1988 his special forces unit massacred civilians in El Salvador. The government wants to pin it on Tom. He assures Claire of his innocence and explains that the guilty parties are actually his respected superiors. To help her husband avoid the death penalty, Claire puts all of her legal energy into defending him against a heavily stacked, top-secret military court. But it’s a system foreign to her. So she enlists the aid of a disgraced former military attorney named Charlie Grimes. He knows the rules and isn’t afraid to break them. Along with the wet-behind-the-ears court-appointed Lieutenant Embry, they set out to gather facts and testimony to prove Tom’s innocence. No easy task. Especially with sinister forces monitoring their every move and threatening their very lives. [Spoiler Warning: Some plot turns revealed]

positive elements: Claire is excited about starting a family, and mourns the loss of her weeks-old baby to a miscarriage. She believes the best of her husband and pursues justice, putting her career on hold and risking her own safety to defend him.

sexual content: Claire bursts into Tom’s workshop with news that she’s at her most fertile moment, leading the couple to discuss positions as they flop onto a couch. A legal has-been, Grimes has taken to defending prostitutes who service servicemen. Several scenes feature these foul-mouthed floozies in immodest outfits (lots of cleavage). At one point, two hookers start working on a man in a hotel room. In a strip club, the camera shows extreme close-ups of exotic dancers’ gyrating body parts (thighs, legs, etc.). Claire’s trampy sister, Jackie, prances around in her underwear and gets sexually involved with a young military officer. We learn that Grimes’ downfall was precipitated by an affair he had with a high-ranking official’s wife. Claire talks to the press about one of her clients, an accused rapist.

violent content: Numerous flashbacks of the El Salvador war crimes show a café full of people being blown to smithereens, innocent villagers getting shot at close range and dead bodies sprawled out on the ground. Marines beat up Grimes quite severely. A masked intruder bashes Claire in the head and threatens to shoot her. Another man is shot dead after a brutal struggle. Tom and an antagonistic soldier get into a fistfight. On the highway, assailants force Claire’s car off the road. Hooligans burglarize the Kubiks’ home in the middle of the night and smash a plate-glass window. When the FBI jumps into action to arrest Tom, both he and Claire are wrestled to the ground at gunpoint.

crude or profane language: Dialogue includes three-dozen profanities (more than a third are the s-word). There are several misuses of God’s name and crass sexual references. Claire makes an obscene gesture at a truckload of howling marines.

drug and alcohol content: Alcohol is consumed at a bar. Grimes is a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon in a big way. He gets drunk and figures that, since he’s already smashed, downing a bottle of champagne wouldn’t do any harm. Jackie is almost always shown with a lit cigarette in her hand. In fact, many characters smoke.

conclusion: For the first hour and 45 minutes, High Crimes is a bedeviling, well-acted, thinking man’s thriller. Then it chokes. The film’s unnecessary, illogical finale sells out to a cheap plot twist that renders everything else in the movie moot. I like a red herring now and then, but this is one huge fish story. In fact, the more I reflected on the details in light of its What Lies Beneath crescendo, the more frustrated and manipulated I felt. Beyond this capital offense, High Crimes is also guilty of taking full advantage of the PG-13 rating with sexual suggestiveness, frequent profanity and images of people being gunned down in cold blood. By the way, is it just me or is this a remarkably inappropriate time to release a drama that so thoroughly vilifies the American military? A complete waste of time.

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