Double Jeopardy [DVD]
Screenplay : David Weisberg & Douglas Cook
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Tommy Lee Jones (Travis Lehman), Ashley Judd (Libby Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Nick Parsons), Annabeth Gish (Angela), Roma Maffia (Margaret Skolowski), Davenia McFadden (Evelyn Lake), Jay Brazeau (Bobby), Gillian Barber (Rebecca Tingely), Benjamin Weir (Matty Parsons, age 4)
"Double Jeopardy" offers a twist on the well-known Hitchcock formula of the wrongly accused man evading the law in order to prove his innocence. The movie, a shiny Hollywood product directed by Bruce Beresford, complicates that scenario in two potentially interesting ways. First, instead of a wrongfully accused man, we get a wrongfully accused woman; second, instead of trying to prove her innocence, she instead is out to kill the man who wronged her. Interesting diversions from the formula--too bad they are never exploited to their potential.
The woman in question is Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd), a wealthy, content wife of a powerful businessman named Nick (Bruce Greenwood). While they are out sailing together, Nick is apparently brutally murdered, and although his body is not found, Libby is arrested and convicted for the crime. While in jail, Libby learns that Nick is, in fact, still alive (having faked his own death to avoid looming financial disaster) and living under a new name with their four-year-old son and Libby's best friend, Angela (Annabeth Gish).
After she finds out this shocking information, Libby learns that the police are unwilling to reopen the case. She is then given a tip from a fellow inmate who used to be a lawyer: Because she has already been legally convicted and sentenced for the murder of her husband, once she is out on bail, she is free to kill him with impunity because the Bill of Rights guarantees that you cannot be tried for the same crime twice.
Whether or not that would stand up in court is questionable (after all, it seems like her killing someone would constitute a parole violation, even if she's already been convicted of that person's death), but on face value it makes sense. So, once Libby is out on parole after six years behind bars, she makes it her goal to hunt down Nick and kill him for real this time and reclaim her son (it is sometimes hard to tell what is driving her more--the lust of vengeance or the motherly imperative to rescue her child).
"Double Jeopardy" turns into a sort of lite version of "The Fugitive" once Tommy Lee Jones is introduced as Travis Lehman, Libby's hard-drinking, bitter parole officer who follows her across the country once she skips parole to track down her husband. Jones plays essentially the exact same role as he did in "The Fugitive"--the determined hunter who ultimately comes to sympathize with his prey. In this case, he eventually becomes Libby's accomplice in getting even with Nick.
The screenplay, written by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook (two-thirds of the writing team that concocted Michael Bay's action opus "The Rock" in 1996), has any number of logic problems and an almost ridiculous reliance on coincidences and good luck. For instance, when the story requires that Libby have money, instead of coming up with an interested scheme, Weisberg and Cook simply throw in Libby's mother, who happens to have a couple grand in cash buried in her tomato garden.
Much of the action during the last half hour of the film, which takes place in New Orleans, is also quite dubious, because it requires Travis to have the ability to immediately locate Libby at any given point in the movie. Now, for those of you who have ever been to the French Quarter in New Orleans when it is crowded, you know just how ridiculous a notion that is.
This is not to say that "Double Jeopardy" is not enjoyable in its own right. If you turn off your brain and relish the spectacle of a sympathetic woman fighting to get even with the slimy man who ruined her life, it has a certain cathartic vigor. Bruce Greenwood does a fine job of playing Nick as a callous, greedy SOB who is almost too easy to despise. Judd, with her combination of baby-cute features and siren sexy demeanor, was also a good choice for Libby. It's impossible not to be on her side, even though the story doesn't develop her plight for all it's worth. Her time in jail is far too short and gentle to create the real sense of anger and vengeance needed to give the movie an edge.
The director, Bruce Beresford, has made some excellent films, both in his native Australia ("Break Morant," 1980) and in the United States ("Tender Mercies, 1984, "Driving Miss Daisy," 1989). His principle gift as a director, the ability to create noble, realistic characters, is strained in "Double Jeopardy" due to the underdeveloped script. He and Jones work overtime to make Travis, a sad sack of a character, into someone likable by the last reel, and for the most part they are successful. Libby's character doesn't offer much of a challenge, although there is a lingering feeling that more could have been done to enhance her determination.
For all its triviality and untapped potential, "Double Jeopardy" is still an interesting mystery. It collapses on itself at the end, though, because no matter what, the story requires that Libby must kill Nick. Even though, to their credit, Weisberg and Cook come up with a more interesting and arguably more vengeful alternative, the constraints of the product demand that Libby execute her treacherous husband, lest the whole double jeopardy idea not be fulfilled. If the movie had had the conviction to follow a better, daring route, it might have left a more lasting impression.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Languages: English, French
Extras: Original theatrical trailer, Behind-the-scenes featurette
Video: The anamorphically enhanced image on this DVD, which is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is very good. It was obviously mastered from good source elements, as there is no apparent damage of any kind in the form of scratches or dust. The picture is sharp overall, and the colors are well-saturated with no bleeding, especially during the colorful sequences in the New Orleans French Quarter. No compression artifacts could be detected. The film also contains a number of dark sequences that utilize shadows, and the blacks were deep and natural-looking. The underwater sequence when Judd's character drives a car off a barge into the ocean is a particularly good sequence to demonstrate the disc's outstanding contrast of light and dark.
Audio: The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround soundtrack was nicely designed, with good scenes involving ambient sound. The dialogue was always clear, and the soundtrack does a nice job of making crowd scenes fully enveloping without being overwhelming. Bass levels were nicely controlled and effective.
Extras: This disc contains a minimal number of extras, including the original theatrical trailer and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The featurette is typical, composed mostly of interviews with cast members and director Bruce Beresford.
©1999,2000 James Kendrick