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.
The Video and Audio
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.
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.