Posted: 04/19/2000

 

Double Jeopardy

(1999)

by Del Harvey



Why is it so difficult to make a good suspense film? Especially when helmed by a director of Bruce Beresford’s capabilities.


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Bruce Beresford has made some very fine films. He has also made some not so great films. But that’s how it is with filmmaking. There are so many creative elements invested in the production of a single film, and so many individuals, that the probability of making a film that contains elements of quality, taste, and suscess at the box office is an extremely slim one at best. On rare occasions, all the elements come together in harmonious union. While not having had a huge blockbuster in his list of credits, Beresford has successfully married quality with taste and come up with a number of financial successes, including Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies, and Breaker Morant. Double Jeopardy may easily be counted among his minor successes.

As a suspense film it has many flaws which, under most other directors’ guidance, would be insufferable. The film relies heavily upon circumstance, and any novelist will point out the hazards of that practice in storytelling. Certain characters are built up as having specific traits, strengths, and weaknesses only to contradict those same characteristics without much given in the way of motivation. But Beresford manages to get us past these small blunders without much suspension of disbelief.

The major flaw comes in the handling of perspective. The first and most glaring of these errors is when female lead Ashely Judd awakens to discover herself covered in blood. She and husband Bruce Greenwood have borrowed the boat for the weekend, taking the opportunity to get away from their son and their work. After making love and falling asleep, Judd wakes up to discover herself covered in blood. There are bloody foot and hand prints leading to the stern of the boat. Her husband is nowhere to be seen. At this precise moment a floodlight comes on, blinding her, as a Coast Guard cutter has appeared in the fog and one of the guardsmen shouts out, “Drop the knife.” Yes, she just stooped to pick up the bloody knife. Her husband’s body is never retrieved. Now, the name of the film is Double Jeopardy, and we’ve all seen the trailer showing her husband is actually still alive, so I’m not giving anything away. However, this first circumstance is a little too obvious and any of us who have watched any television police dramas would immediately think, “I’ve been set up.” Or, at least as viewers we believe we would see right through the situation. Whether we would see through it or not if we were in her shoes is besides the point. The fact that this situation is so transparent means the whole scene was poorly handled. There must be better ways of presenting this situation, and a filmmaker of Beresford’s ability lets us down here.

In spite of these drawbacks, there are still a number of enjoyable components to this film. Ashley Judd’s character is strong, is fairly well concieved, and is very well played. The part of Libby is not, however, all that different from Judd’s character in Kiss The Girls, which is by far a better suspense film. Judd seems well on her way to carving a niche as a serious dramatic actress, and that road is fraught with difficult choices. Let’s hope she does not take the misteps that contemporaries such as Sandra Bullock have in choosing roles and projects.

Tommy Lee Jones is Tommy Lee Jones in this film. In general, it’s pretty difficult for him to be anyone else, but there’s nothing wrong with that. He is really the supporting character to Judd, and as such is sort of “along for the ride.” The flimsiness of his own character’s background paralleling Judd’s is a passable excuse for him to even be in the film. I think the best term for his character’s existence would be “distraction.”

Bruce Greenwood stars as Judd’s husband, the heavy of the film. His persona is slimy, egotistical, and generally adequate. Remarkably, almost all of his evil-doing is done offscreen. Again, the suspense and action come about as a result of “circumstance.” The very beautiful Annabeth Gish has a minor role as their child’s nanny and Greenwood’s lover.

Double Jeopardy is a good suspense film, but not a great one. If you happen to have missed it at the theatre, it’s a good video/DVD rental, or something enjoyable to catch on cable, for Judd’s strong female lead if nothing else. But if you want a good suspense film, and still want a strong female lead, check out Kiss The Girls or The Last Seduction.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago, has written for several TV shows and has worked in the film industry in Hollywood.



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