Most of us continue to like Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman no matter how many lame movies they wind up in, so it's satisfying to report that "High Crimes" represents a slight upward shift in their good-will-to-good-pictures ratio.
In this pedestrian but inoffensive thriller, Judd plays Claire Kubik, a hotshot San Francisco lawyer who's like a cinematic version of Marcia Clark: She has a killer wardrobe, a stylish head of cropped hair and a can-do spirit that manifests itself in the occasional show of bird-flipping defiance. Claire's idyllic, carefully constructed existence is toppled when the FBI arrests her husband, Tom (Jim Caviezel), accusing him of being a fugitive military operative who murdered El Salvadoran civilians during a covert assignment in 1988. He denies the murder charges, but cops to the identity games. His real name, he admits to his wife, is not Tom Kubik but Ron Chapman.
Claire gets over this shock pretty quickly, and bravely steps up to commandeer her husband's defense in military court. For expert assistance, she turns to Charlie Grimes (Freeman), a self-professed wild card of an attorney whose intimate dealings with the Marines have left him suspicious of anyone in uniform. Together, these two underdog barristers poke holes in the government's case, uncovering a conspiracy that may reach to the upper echelons of the armed forces.
Much of what happens in "High Crimes" is utterly stupid, and almost all of it is derivative. But Judd and Freeman bring a zip to their characters that goes far beyond what's on the scripted page, and the film has a subtle populist undercurrent that's nearly subversive when placed in the current context. Almost all of the story's twists and turns support the old-fashioned leftie belief that civilian vigilance is the sole defense against widespread military corruption. This movie simply doesn't know there's a war on, and we're all the better for it.