HIGH CRIMES: A COMPETENT
FEMALE LAWYER EMERGES FROM THE WRECKAGE
By Michael Asimow
You can just imagine the meeting
where they pitched the script of High Crimes--it can't
miss. It's A Few Good Men meets Jagged Edge!
All right! Green light! Unfortunately, High Crimes
turns out to be a mediocre, contrived hash. Even for fans of
the courtroom movie genre, it's nothing more than an OK video
rental when you can't find anything better. It doesn't come
close to the quality of the two films from which it's so obviously
As in A Few Good Men,
we're dealing with the prosecution by the Marine Corps of an
ex-Marine named Ron Chapman. It's another of these hush-hush
national security type cases. Chapman is accused of murdering
nine Salvadorian civilians during a raid on the town of Las Colinas
during the Salvadorian civil war (the politics of which go completely
unexplored). He, of course, claims to be completely innocent
and the victim of a Marine cover-up orchestrated by the high-powered
Gen. Bill Marks and the ominous Major Hernandez.
Chapman (Jim Kavaziel) has
been living for the last 12 years as Tom Kubik, a warm, lovable
character married to Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd). Claire is a
high-powered senior associate in a big San Francisco firm. At
the beginning, we see her win a new trial for a rape defendant
based on prosecutorial misconduct and the senior partner hints
that she's about to make partner. (What a big SF firm is doing
defending rape cases is unexplained). Tom and Claire are happily
married and trying to get her pregnant.
The FBI arrests Tom on the
old Salvadorian charges and Claire rushes to the Marine base
at San Lazaro where she discovers he's being defended by the
inept Lt. Embry. She feels she has to take a leave from her
firm and take over Tom/Ron's defense. She associates washed-up
lawyer Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman) who knows military law
and is a thorn in the Marines' side. Charlie has a severe drinking
problem. And so we have the three-person, mismatched defense
team up against the high-powered Marine prosecutors and the high
level cover-up. Sound familiar? Not to disclose any more
of the plot, which is highly convoluted but probably won't surprise
anybody. . . let's turn to the character of Claire Kubik.
Historically, female lawyers
in the movies have been a complete disaster. They have been
unethical, incompetent, over-emotional, messed up people with
horrible judgment and no personal life. Really, aside from Katherine
Hepburn's historic role as Amanda Bonner in Adam's Rib
(1949), or perhaps Reggie Love in The Client (1994),
it's hard to find a female lawyer in the movies who is both a
decent lawyer and a decent human being.
As the legal profession becomes
steadily feminized (women outnumber men at many law schools these
days), one would expect that there would be some decent female
lawyers in the movies. Certainly, on television, there are lots
of women lawyers and they are empathetic and nuanced characters
who are skilled and competent. But, for whatever reason, the
movies have lagged far behind.
Just recently, in I Am Sam
(2001), Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) typified all the elements
we've come to expect of our cinematic female trial lawyers.
Rita's life is a chaotic mess. She is married with a kid and
works ungodly hours at a big firm, thus leaving her unable to
manage her home life. She is greedy, contemptuous of pro bono,
rude to everyone, late for everything, and lies all the time
to everybody in a futile attempt to manage her practice. She
gets shamed into representing a retarded man (Sean Penn in a
really brilliant performance) who is threatened with loss of
custody of his precocious daughter. Although she ultimately
makes a full commitment to his case, her work is replete with
serious errors, bad manners, and unprofessional behavior (as
well chronicled by Lev Ginsburg's essay on this site).
Well, Claire Kubik is actually
nothing like the stereotypical movie woman lawyer. She is happily
married (or at least, so she thinks) and professionally successful.
She has a decent personality and a sense of humor. She strikes
you as somebody you'd like to have as a friend and somebody you'd
definitely want to retain as your lawyer if you were in trouble.
At all times, she is competent and professional. Her work is
marred by no serious ethical lapses. She does a solid job in
representing her husband in a difficult and sometimes rather
scary case. Not an expert in military law, she retains co-counsel
to back her up. So, in this respect (but in no other), High
Crimes transcends the limits of its genre.
Posted: October 2, 2002