Reasonable Doubt [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (27th March 2014).
The Film

“I never lose.”

As if the generic title didn’t already spoil the surprise, I’ll state flat-out “Reasonable Doubt” is an unnecessary addition to the courtroom thriller sub-genre, guilty of, if nothing else, grave unoriginality. The picture’s predictability is countered, however ineffectually, by completely absurd plot twists. And even with every twist and turn, and any new piece of evidence film unearthed, it still feels like several other films spliced together, with the appropriate find-replaces as to keep litigious legal teams at bay over copyright, until the plot ultimately stumbles into a hilariously awful third act––traipsing in the tropes of a home invasion film of all things––in which a manic, wide-eyed and scene-chewing Samuel L. Jackson tries very hard to recapture the lunacy of his craziest characters. If Jackson deliriously over-acts here, his co-stars do the opposite, and are completely devoid of convincing or compelling emotion. As a result, the courtroom drama scenes of “Reasonable” are without doubt dull, and would be downright tedious if they weren’t so brief. The thriller elements are equally bland, with inert action sequences, and a sense of completely contrived tension, created by way of an abrasive and tonally dissonant score that attempts to create excitement where none really exists.

That’s not to say the film, ultimately ludicrous plot aside, isn’t born from an interesting, if not exactly original premise: A lawyer finds himself faced with the prospect of prosecuting a man for a crime the lawyer himself committed. But whatever promise the premise had is quickly exhausted to increasingly implausible ends within the first half hour, and then abandoned altogether for a remainder of the runtime. And "Reasonable" becomes a rote rundown of several other, better, revenge-driven genre films. ”Reasonable Doubt” is bad. Perhaps not so bad as to be guilty of crimes against cinema and cinema-goers, or that it is completely unwatchable, but I completely understand why director Peter Howitt released the picture under a pseudonym (Peter P. Croudins) instead of his real name.

Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) lives a charmed life. Although born in poverty and from a broken home, through the years he’s persevered, and has made it: He has a young wife (Erin Karpluk) who loves him and a brand new baby daughter at home. He’s a promising attorney, well on his way to raising to the level of D.A. one day, whose bosses and colleagues do nothing but heap praise upon praise in the office. As they should; Mitch takes pride in the fact that he’s never lost a case. Smart as he may be in the courtroom, after a late night on the town, out celebrating with a few of his friends following a particularly impressive win, Mitch makes the misguided decision to drive home drunk. Almost immediately after getting behind the wheel, the loaded lawyer hits someone with his car. In his inebriated state, he flees the scene, but not before dialing 911 from a payphone; every part of this act that will come back to haunt him in more ways than one. The next morning, a hungover Mitch sees on the news that a local handyman, Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson), has been arrested for the murder of the person Mitch accidentally ran over. By some miraculous coincidence––or, more likely, hack-ish screenwriting convenience––Mitch ends up at the prosecuting table at Davis’ trial.

Wracked with guilt, Mitch feels compelled to prove the other man’s innocence, especially after he learns that, because markers from the recent death recur in the evidence of other crimes, the lead detective on the case (Gloria Rueben) wants to pin a series of unrelated, unsolved murders on Davis. But when the attorney succeeds in getting the accused Davis acquitted, and another man is murdered with eerie similarity, Mitch is faced with a horrible possibility: Davis might actually be a serial killer after all. Suddenly fancying himself a detective, for no real reason I can discern of than "because the script says so", Mitch teams up with his petty criminal stepbrother (Ryan Robbins)––who perjured himself on the witness stand to help Mitch lose the case against Davis––to prove look into the unsolved murders, and possible serial killer connection. Only problem is, Davis knows Mitch’s secret. He saw Brockden broadside that pedestrian, and threatens to tell the police the truth if Mitch comes forward with his new findings.

The initial courtroom drama might have proved compelling as its own film. Likewise the little serial killer investigation subplot. At least initially, Davis’ guilt (of all crimes) is left open to interpretation; obscured by the possibility that other biases are at work clouding judgement, and twisting the truth. And then Davis turns into a criminal super villain, who toys with Mitch by making the lawyer an unwitting player in a game; an easily manipulated piece on a labyrinthine game board. So how, Mitch played right into Davis' hand. The covert investigation into the killings has put Mitch in the right places at the wrong times, which makes it look like every crime actually committed by Davis points back to Mitch. The plot has the characters engaging in a game of cat-and-mouse, eventually quite literally flipping the tables in the earlier setup: Mitch ends up the one being questioned by Police, asking to speak to a lawyer, and maybe on his way to seeing the inside of courtroom and jail cell for crimes he didn’t commit. And then there’s the third act, which shifts the paradigm again by dragging Mitch’s family into the fray when the game goes astray.

Convoluted and hackneyed, the film is a mess. Not really a surprise, I suppose, considering it was scripted by Peter A. Dowling, one of the writers of “Flight Plan” (2005). And while the writer’s plane-set picture might hold up better under the weight of that script's cargo load of crap, that was mostly down to the cast and their performances, both of which are sorely lacking within “Reasonable Doubt”. Jackson is over the top; hilariously so, maybe even in a so-bad-he's-awesome way. But Cooper is dead-eyed, has one expression on his face the entire film, and lets his real accent through too often. And the other characters, from the generic female detective to Brockden’s brother and wife, all have too little screen time to make a lasting impression. They are just cut-out cogs at work in the machine that moves the plot towards its next increasingly absurd twist.

Both Cooper and Jackson claim in the extras on this Blu-ray that the reason they signed onto the film is that they really wanted to make a movie together. Consider this: they each play a part in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jackson as Nick Fury; Cooper as Tony Stark’s dad, Howard. But, because their characters exist in different time periods, usually in different films, they haven’t feasibly been able to appear on screen within the confines of the MCU films. And yet, because of the way “Doubt” plays out––with Jackson’s Clinton Davis a maniacal mastermind, orchestrating some grand design to manipulate Cooper’s Mitch Brockden––the two are rarely, actually, on screen together. They converse through phone calls to one another, or play their little back-and-forth match cross-cutting between two settings in a race against the clock. So, if there goal was to make a movie together, the few legitimate moments they have on screen in “Reasonable” amount to only a couple more than the number of scenes their Marvel characters have shared, and those guys are literally separated by the physical laws of the universe and 50 years time span. And that’s an injustice, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Video

“Reasonable Doubt” is presented in 1080p 24/fps high definition using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film is framed in its original 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Technically flawless, the transfer from a digital source features crisp fine detail, noticeable in Cooper’s stubble and closeups of Jackson’s surprisingly porous complexion. The disc has a clean, grain free appearance, without a trace of noise or any noticeable artifacts or other encoding anomalies. However, I’d hardly call this is a pleasing image. The cinematography, by Brian Pearson, a veteran second unit DP, is generally flat (funny, considering he frequently employs canted, “Dutch Angle” shots with the camera). The color palette is predominately colder blues, except for skin tones which skew towards a putrid pale purple-pink at times. The film is also very dark, which, when combined with dim contrast, results in mediocre delineation; many nights scenes in back alleys, and Mitch’s excursion into Davis’ boarded up home to look for evidence, are cloaked in oppressive shadows. Daylight material and the early courtroom scenes offer more pleasing clarity, but are still cold and surprisingly colorless. Lionsgate has transferred an ugly film to Blu-ray faithfully without fault.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (48kHz/24-bit) is guilty of another crime of creative laziness. In place of actual compelling thrills, a false sense of tension pervades many of scenes thanks to James Jandrisch’s pounding, percussive, synthesized score––reminiscent, if not down right derivative of Cliff Martinez’s work in “Contagion” (2011) or some of Brian Reitzell’s score on “Hannibal” (2013-present). Jandrisch has a particularly fondness for a similar kind of phasing effect (employed in the latter, TV series, during many of times Will Graham enters full empathy mode when he reconstructs crime scenes in his mind). “Reasonable Doubt’s” score is loud. Extremely loud; perhaps even overbearingly loud, but it does extend with some nice deep low bass tones in the process, and effectively fills the full sound field during those moments of contrived tension. When the soundtrack isn’t totally inundated by the music, dialog is clear, but otherwise quite bland. Optional English and Spanish subtitles have also been included.

Extras

“Reasonable Doubt” includes 2 featurettes, 3 deleted scenes, and bonus trailers, each about as worthwhile the film they supplement. Which is to say... not.

Lionsgate has authored the disc with optional bookmarks and the resume playback function. An HD Digital Copy compatible with UltraViolet and iTunes has also been included.

“Behind the Scenes with Cast and Crew Interviews” (2.40:1/1.78:1, 1080p; 11 minutes 52 seconds) is a generic EPK featurette, complete with a copious amount of film clips and canned interviews with the primary players and crew members, minus the director. Producer Silvio Muraglia oddly claims the film is one everyone can relate to. Uh, how?

3 deleted scenes (2.40:1, 1080p; 9 minutes 59 seconds, play all) are more like extensions; the first two lessen one of the more ludicrous plot elements relating to Mitch’s brother, Jimmy (Ryan Robbins), and his seemingly sudden appearance on the witness stand. The scenes are:

– “Reunion”––the morning after the accident, Mitch meets his stepbrother, a petty criminal, for breakfast at a crummy diner. It's here Mitch sees the news report.
– “Diner”––Mitch meets with his stepbrother again, at the same crummy diner, to talk about his case, and crisis of conscience, over lunch.
– “Approach the Bench”––Mitch’s antics with a witness anger the judge and he threatens to declare a mistrial.

The best part of the ludicrously long multi-part featurette “Interviews with Samuel L. Jackson, Dominic Cooper, and Gloria Rueben” (1.78:1, 1080p; 35 minutes 54 seconds, play all) is Jackson’s blasé attitude, and general (and very obvious) disinterest in talking about the film, which he openly admits is generic.

Pre-menu bonus trailers for:

– “Empire State” on DVD, Blu-ray, and HD Digital (2.35:1, 1080p; 2 minutes 33 seconds).
– “On Frozen Ground” on DVD, Blu-ray, and HD Digital (2.35:1, 1080p; 1 minute 31 seconds).
– “Hours” on DVD and HD Digital (2.35:1, 1080p; 1 minute 50 seconds).
– EPIX HD promo (1080i; 1 minute 46 seconds).

Packaging

Lionsgate Home Entertainment bring “Reasonable Doubt” to Blu-ray in their now typical package with an HD Digital copy. The BD-50 is housed inside an Elite keep case. A cardboard slip-cover has been included in first pressings.

Overall

Beyond a doubt, I think it’s reasonable to say this cliché courtroom-thriller-crime-drama-home-invasion hybrid mess is guilty of unoriginality and a litany of other cinematic crimes. Coupled with a lack of compelling characters, and featuring actors, devoid of realistic emotion, giving forgettable performances––save for Sam Jackson, who has a few moments to shine in that special scene-chewing way he seems to savor when he knows the material he’s working with is at best mediocre––“Reasonable Doubt” is a bad movie. The Blu-ray features a detailed but dark video transfer, a powerful if at-times overbearing soundtrack, and nearly an hour of really boring bonus material. Skip it.

The Film: D- Video: B Audio: B Extras: D Overall: C-

 


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