Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) is a rising legal star hoping to make District Attorney one day. Not only is he great at winning cases, but his beautiful wife, Rachel (Erin Karpluk) has recently given birth to their first child. To celebrate his latest conviction, his co-workers take him out for a drink. Afterward, he's prepared to grab a taxi home when he notices some people eyeing his SUV, so he decides to drive home instead. Paranoid at the sight of a cop directly behind him, he pulls into an alley, only to hit a pedestrian. He calls an ambulance from a pay phone and takes off, but becomes overwhelmed with guilt when Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson), a 50-something mechanic, is caught with the body in his van. Davis explains he was taking the victim to a hospital, but the police believe the evidence says Davis murdered the man himself.
On one hand, considering the quality of most direct-to-video thrillers, Reasonable Doubt is a surprisingly well-made movie. Even when its escalating twists and turns are silly, tired, or predictable, it's well-constructed and features decent performances, which makes it surprisingly tense. On the other hand, the film's issues do prevent it from being something worthy of recommendation, particularly in the way its lead character is written.
The film hangs on the premise that Mitch is an average guy who gets in an accident and panics, and that the viewer should have sympathy for him when the situation spirals out of control, but most of the details that work in Mitch's favor are unveiled after the accident, and the way he acts at the scene of the crime plays less like terror and more like pure selfishness. If the man dies, of course, a vehicular manslaughter charge could derail Mitch's life, but Mitch has no proof that will happen. Instead, the only motivation the film provides for Mitch to run away is that he might lose his shot at becoming district attorney, or that it will have some undefined impact on his wife and child -- probably not the stakes director Peter P. Croudins or writer Peter A. Dowling want people to be picturing as Mitch decides to call from a pay phone instead of his cell phone. Even that kind of foresight hurts his image: when he thinks to hold a tissue over the pay phone receiver to disguise his voice, to rip his jacket back out of the victim's hands, and to get a car wash, it plays like him systematically covering his own ass using specialized knowledge.
Of course, this really speaks to a bigger problem: Mitch isn't a very interesting character. Honestly, the solution would be to push Mitch more firmly into murky moral waters. Reasonable Doubt eventually turns into a more heightened thriller, so the film probably wouldn't make many strong points about the nuances of guilt and decency either way, but at least it would give Samuel L. Jackson something to play off of. Cooper is fine in scenes that require him to be a generic thriller victim, but Mitch is mostly a blank slate, tugged through the story not by his own actions but the actions of others. A late-movie phone conversation between Clinton and Mitch suddenly brings into focus how much more compelling Jackson's role is in comparison to Cooper's, even as the film kicks into an incredibly conventional finale.
As an actor, Jackson has always seemed like a workaholic, willing to go wherever the work takes him. He's got such a strong delivery and presence that even a scrap of character meat will give him plenty to work with. There isn't much mystery to Clayton, but Jackson manages to make it work through sheer conviction, lending details that would normally be silly some real gravitas. The supporting cast is also surprisingly good, including Gloria Reuben as the no-nonsense officer in charge of Clayton's case, Erin Karpluk as Mitch's exhausted wife, and Ryan Robbins as Mitch's bitter step-brother, fresh out of prison. The pleasure of these performances is how surprisingly natural and non-showy they are, allowing the story to provide the dramatics.
At a loss for a cover design? Go with the faces of your lead actors. The darkened mugs of Jackson and Cooper grace this Blu-Ray cover, and the designer found a new twist on the old "wrong names above the wrong faces" trope -- they're mismatched vertically instead. A red splatter of blood captures another shot of Jackson walking through a graveyard. The one-disc release is packed into a standard eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-Ray case, with a paper insert containing the UltraViolet digital copy code, and there is a matte cardboard slipcover with glossy highlights and embossing wrapped around it.
The Video and Audio
Lionsgate offers Reasonable Doubt with a 2.39:1 1080p AVC HD transfer. The film was shot on the , but the image has a very minor and extremely pleasing degree of softness to it that makes it feel less digital, even with the complete absence of film grain. The one area in which the transfer can struggle is during very dark scenes, where the slightly weak black levels tend to flatten scenes. It's not crush, because the detail of these shots still appears to be present within the picture, but clarity and depth are muted.
Audio is an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that gets plenty of mileage out of the film's propulsive score, by composer James Jandrisch. Although there are a couple of silly stings, as if Reasonable Doubt were a Friday the 13th knockoff, it provides a major piece of the film's formula for pounding pulses. Acoustics are also quite impressive, most noticeably in a haunting scene set in an abandoned plant of some kind, where echo and reverb are used to great effect. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, English subtitles, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
"Behind the Scenes With Cast and Crew Interviews" (11:52) is a standard making-of, with the usual mix of interviews and far too many clips, with the twist being that a huge chunk of the piece is taken up by two producers mumbling unenthusiastically about doing a lower-budget production, and shooting in Canada. On top of even that, one of the interview clips seemed to be plagued with an obnoxious high-pitch whining, while the others just feature heavy white noise. These are accentuated by extended interviews with Samuel L. Jackson, Dominic Cooper, and Gloria Reuben (35:54), which are simply the unedited versions of the usual promotional fluff in the main EPK. These are plagued with the same unusually loud white noise, and Jackson in particular seems remarkably disinterested in the whole process. The disc rounds out with three deleted scenes (9:59), including a diner conversation between Mitch and Jimmy that was rewritten and seemingly reshot, explaining one of the film's more awkward cuts: a piece of it remains in the film, minus Jimmy.
Trailers for Empire State, Frozen Ground, Hours, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Reasonable Doubt is also included. All of the extras are presented in HD.
Reasonable Doubt is good enough to be entertaining and bad enough that one wishes it were a little bit smarter. Between the miscalculation with its protagonist and a bland ending, it's a movie that is decidedly above-average, yet simultaneously inspires a sense of disappointment. Fans of Jackson, at least, will want to rent it.
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