Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Double pursuit entangles Judd and Jones in 'Double Jeopardy'

By Tam Notosusanto

JAKARTA (JP): Here is a film in which a legal term plays a key role. Hollywood is full of legal wordings that serve as film titles as well as their main issues, e.g. Presumed Innocent, The Burden of Proof, Guilty by Suspicion, Murder in the First. And just like any one of them, Double Jeopardy is all about deception and murder.

In this film, the inspiration comes from the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates that no individual can be punished for the same crime twice. So, for instance, if somebody is convicted and imprisoned for murdering another person, and that "murdered" person turns out to be alive, the convicted person is then free to kill that ersatz victim, right?

At least that is the hypothetical question screenwriters David Weisberg and Douglas Cook try to turn into a movie here. Their heroine, Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) is a woman happily married to a wealthy philanthropist (Bruce Greenwood). But her idyllic life comes to an abrupt end one night when she wakes up on the sailboat where she is having some romantic time with Nick, her husband, and he is nowhere to be found. Instead, she discovers a bloody knife on the deck, and blood all over the boat, their bedroom, and herself.

Here the movie goes into a fast-forwarded motion. The authorities cannot find Nick, or his body and declare him dead. Next, Libby is suspected of his murder, with a million-dollar life insurance on her husband as motive. She is put on trial, found guilty, and put behind bars.

This fast-speed segment only indicates that the core of the movie is yet to begin. It actually begins when Libby, as she is serving her 10 years, finds out that her husband is still alive in another city, raising their son and married to her best friend (Annabeth Gish). Burning with rage, but ostensibly calm enough to convince the parole board, Libby is released and put under the supervision of the strict parole officer, Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones).

And it's not difficult to predict where Libby goes next. She proceeds to investigate the whereabouts of her "late" husband and as soon as she gets a lead, she pursues it, even if it means violating the rules of her parole.

And as she follows Nick's trail from city to city, Lehman is close behind, tracking her down.

Double Jeopardy is designed as a fun action-thriller, with people pursuing people, a few fisticuffs and wrestling here and there, all served with mild violence. It's primarily an escapist spectacle, so the audience is not expected to give too much thought to the whole proceeding, just suspend their disbelief if they will, while enjoying the ride.

Thus, we shouldn't fret about how easily Libby gets imprisoned, or why, after six years in prison, she shows no sign of aging and still has smooth facial skin.

Nor should we wonder about her background, whether she used to be a federal agent or not, for instance, just because she happens to have strong investigative skills and that she doesn't panic easily even though she is chained to a drowning car or wakes up buried in a casket with a rotting corpse.

All the filmmakers want us to know is that she is not one angry female on a vigilantist revenge mission because, as she tells Nick when she finally finds him, "Look, I don't want to do anything to you, I just want to see my son. Bring me to him." So she is just one sensitive parent who misses her child so much, and has no intention to seek revenge and kill her evil husband, even though it is lawful for her to do so. Yeah, right.

The film is given considerable weight, however, by its leading lady's performance. A lovely woman blessed with remarkable acting skills but, cursed with roles in crappy movies, Judd lends her character a mixture of agility and grace that is rarely found in today's film heroines.

Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones does what Tommy Lee Jones is proven good at doing, and what he was obviously signed on to do: playing the relentless, obsessive manhunter, as he has done before in his Oscar-winning performance as U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive. Chasing Harrison Ford and chasing Ashley Judd proves to be no different, except that Jones now gets top billing despite the supporting nature of his role, as he is apparently a bigger star than Judd.

Talking about this movie without once mentioning director Bruce Beresford wouldn't be fair, but it is tragic that a man with his admirable cinematic reputation, should be associated with this kind of film.

Once famous as the person responsible for 1980s classics such as Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart and the winner of the 1989 Best Picture Oscar, Driving Miss Daisy; Beresford's career has since taken a downturn. His later offerings, like A Good Man in Africa, Last Dance, and now this one shows that he is capable of making shallow movies as well, if not tidily-made shallow movies, but certainly the kind of movies undeserving of a filmmaker of his caliber.

Let's hope this is the bottomest bottom he will ever reach.