An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Double Jeopardy (1999)
PUBLISHED: 16:20 21 June 2018
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different
Double Jeopardy; dir: Bruce Beresford; starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, Annabeth Gish. Cert: 15 (1999)
In the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s great to be able to highlight Ashley Judd’s dazzling screen presence in a well-made thriller which appeared just before her career evaporated when she rebuffed Harvey’s advances and found herself on a Hollywood blacklist for being ‘difficult’.
Double Jeopardy is a thriller which re-captures the feel of The Fugitive (thanks in large part to the presence of Tommy Lee Jones) but reworks the plot sufficiently to allow Ashley Judd a few surprises along the way and keep the audience guessing until the end.
The film opens with Libby Parsons (Judd) enjoying a romantic weekend with her husband, Nick (Bruce Greenwood), aboard her sailboat off the coast of Washington. During the night, Libby wakes up to find herself covered in blood. Horrified, she follows the trail of blood up on deck; but instead of finding her husband, she finds a large blood-stained knife. When the Coast Guard arrive, she is taken into custody and charged with murder.
Realising that she is about to go to prison, Libby entrusts her four year-old son, Matty (Benjamin Weir) into the care of her best friend, Angie Green (Annabeth Gish). While in prison, however, her world turns upside down again when she discovers that her husband is alive and well. Nick, who staged his own death, now has a new identity, has moved in with Angie and has since disappeared. Angry that she has been framed, she resolves to one day get even. Her fellow inmates tell her about the term Double Jeopardy – she has already been tried and convicted of killing her husband, so she can’t be tried again, leaving her free to track him down and exact her revenge.
Eventually, she is paroled and reports to her Seattle parole officer, Travis Lehman, played with brusque Fugitive-like charm by Tommy Lee Jones and he makes no bones about it, his job is to keep her on the straight and narrow.
However, Libby is understandably obsessed with the loss of her son, violates her parole and Travis is forced to pursue her. Libby traces Nick to New Orleans. Once there, she crashes his socialite party and publicly humiliates leading to a tense showdown between Nick, Libby and Travis.
While the plot is probably bet described as workman-like, what makes this film great is the performances from Judd, Greenwood and Tommy Lee Jones along with Bruce Beresford’s urgent direction.
Aussie Beresford, who gave us ‘70s classics Breaker Morant and Don’s Party, not only keeps the story rattling along but he connects us to the emotional heart of the story which is Libby’s sense of anger and hurt. We experience her confusion and her sense of betrayal. We share the same 100 questions about why did a seemingly happy marriage end is such a cruel and calculated manner.
While Hollywood demands that the hit movie The Fugitive is referenced and echoed at regular intervals Beresford and the cast bring so much integrity to the story and wring enough changes to keep everything fresh.
Judd brings a wonderful sense of integrity to the role of Libby. She’s intelligent and resourceful and you are rooting for her throughout the film. You could never describe her as a victim. Equally Bruce Greenwood is brilliant. At the start of the film he appears to be a wonderful kind, understanding man, a loving husband and a caring Dad but with a subtle shift of emphasis in his portrayal he transforms the character into a cynical narcissist.
Judd inhabits Libby and you can feel her anger just beneath the surface as she tracks down her former husband. She’s not a lone crusader because she is taking us, the audience, with her.
Following up the rear is Tommy Lee Jones as the laconic parole officer. He knows what is required, he has the funny lines and the wry attitude, he knows this is Judd’s movie and is happy to provide enough colour and enough acting support to let what could have been a low budget TV movie really take flight.
The acting is universally strong but Beresford deserves special praise for creating enough time for the actors to really take charge of their characters and make us really invest in the outcome of this story.
This is a real crowd-pleaser, an edge of the seat thriller which sets out to entertain, to tell a story and is happy to do just that and do it very well.