Double Jeopardy - rated - TEPID

Sloppy plotting mars a classy thriller

Bruce Beresford deserves better material than this. He's a classy director. He made wonderful and important films like The Getting of Wisdom (1977), Breaker Morant (1980), Tender Mercies (1982), The Fringe Dwellers (1985), Driving Miss Daisy (remember: "The movie that directed itself" 1989), Mister Johnson (1990), Black Robe (1991), Paradise Road (1997). Quite a track record!

Beresford certainly knows how to tell a story. And here his story-telling talents are stretched to the limit. In 105 minutes he must tell a story which is so implausible and moves so fast that in less sure hands we'd either be leaving the theatre in droves or totally lost. That we do neither is a considerable achievement. In fact, this film has apparently done very well in the US, despite the fact that it opened the same weekend as American Beauty!

All of Beresford's films that I have seen are distinguished by class, elegance, and a visual beauty. This film has all those touches. It opens in Washington State, on the ravishing coast (actually Vancouver), and there are some fabulously fluid shots taken from a helicoper flown by my friend Steve Wright! These, and the sailing scenes, are a joy to watch. But the film moves on quickly from there to prison, from prison to San Francisco, then Washington again, then to the suburbs. From there the film dives underwater, resurfaces dramatically and finishes up in New Orleans. It's amazing how much ground the film covers.

Unfortunately the whole premise of the film is ludicrous, but I guess the film is not alone there. My legal advice: don't try that defence at home! Still, if you disengage the analytical parts of your brain, there is much to like about this film. I've already mentioned the look of the film: the cinematographer is Australian Peter James, who's worked with Beresford many times before (notably on Paradise Road and Black Robe). He also shot Alive!(1993).

There's also the beautiful and smooth-skinned Ashley Judd, and the rugged and pock-marked Tommy Lee Jones, who work very well together. There's also the fact that the filmmakers avoid the cliché of (a) allowing them to fall in love and (b) giving Tommy back his girl. Then there's the way that Ashley's character , Libby is single-minded, capable and dogged, all without the need for help from Tommy Lee's character. She's physically more than competent, but without being a superwoman (although I nearly gagged when the film suddenly cut to a clichéd scene of her in prison, working out).

There's some pretty sharp humour sprinkled throughout the film too, which is a bonus. And there are some excellent prison scenes, which include two fellow prsoners who are fascinating, and could easily have had their own movie. Unfortunately I didn't catch their names in the credit, but I think they almost steal the movie!

There are so many holes in this film's plot: apart from the difficulty of the Double Jeopardy defence, there are questions such as: why did the insurance company pay up to a murderer? How on earth did Libby and her husband think $2million was enough to retire on with their lifestyle(!)?, How come Libby got charged at all, much less convicted? How did she get out on parole so soon? Why did she still look gorgeous? How come her mother had thousands of dollars to give away to Libby, even though Libby had mentioned what an appalling relationship she had with her family? How did she transport a revolver on aircraft from Washington across America to Louisiana? How come her husband didn't notice she had a gun in her pants? And how could she possibly be a dress size 2?

But it's possible to leave all that aside...go see the movie if only to support Bruce Beresford's career!