Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Starz / Anchor Bay // PG-13 // $29.98 // December 22, 2009
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted December 14, 2009
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In 1956, "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" was a Fritz Lang picture starring Dana Andrews. In 2009, the film's been remade with Jesse Metcalfe in the lead role, with Peter Hyams in the director's chair. This is not progress. Unsurprisingly, the remake is a clumsy, banal offering of thriller cinema; while the original is perhaps not a faultless classic, it certainly offers more excitement and competence than the star of "John Tucker Must Die" and the director of "A Sound of Thunder" can offer.

C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe) is an ambitious television reporter, stuck in Shreveport dragging through random assignments that fail to challenge his gifts. Smelling a chance to nail arrogant District Attorney Mark Hunter (Michael Douglas) to the wall for falsifying evidence to maintain his perfect record of prosecution, Nicholas, with the help of newsroom buddy Corey (Joel David Moore), looks to implicate himself in a case of murder, providing an opportunity to expose Hunter's underhanded tactics to all. Building a false impression of guilt on video to be revealed when the ideal courtroom moment hits, Nicholas's plan goes awry, sending him to death row for a crime he swears he did not commit. The only person left to help Nicholas is Ella (Amber Tamblyn), his lover and Hunter's protégé.

Mystery plays a pivotal role in "Reasonable Doubt," but mystery is not exactly what Hyams achieves with his motion picture. Hey, it's been tough out there for the filmmaker, who hasn't made a decent movie since 1994's "Timecop," which probably says more about me than it does his creative passions. "Reasonable Doubt" has a very sludgy, workmanlike feel to it, made by filmmakers and actors who either are unskilled for this sort of challenge or just wanted a free trip to Louisiana.

Not really a courtroom drama nor explicitly a murder mystery, "Reasonable Doubt" hangs in a tedious void, running around in increasingly implausible circles as it waits to spring a twistapalooza in the final act, hoping to purple nerple viewers into thinking they've seen something sufficiently mind-bending. Trouble is, it takes 90 minutes of flaming illogic and infuriating Jesse Metcalfe emoting (he's a sincerely unresponsive actor) to get to the ludicrous ending, making the payoff not worth the interminable journey.

Sure, Hyams plays it cool for the first act, but once Nicholas gets comfy in his rather ludicrous plan to act as a human bear trap, the film sheds all respectable pretenses and morphs into idiot thriller mode. The sort of movie where a guy ignites a stream of gasoline with a flicked cigarette, a television newsroom boss prefers to work completely in the dark, and a young woman is stalked by an automobile in a parking garage -- the film's centerpiece action moment and a sequence that might encourage sensitive souls to eject the disc and fling it out of the nearest window.

Michael Douglas only pops up in the picture to say hello, taking on what amounts to a cameo role for reasons unclear (his screen panache is sorely missed). The rest of the film rests on the uncoordinated shoulders of Metcalfe, who is all wrong for the part. Hyams pours salt in the wound by encouraging Moore to act as the film's comic relief. No thank you.



The VC-1 encoded image on the BD (1.85:1) has a troublesome time with shadow detail, with large portions of the film gobbled up by overwhelming black levels, muting the desired levels of suspense. DNR is used sparingly, but pulls needed detail out of crucial scenes. Outdoor photography finds more success in the daylight, selling the Louisiana locations acceptably. Skintones read a bit hot at times, often accentuated by the odd lighting scheme of the movie.


The PCM 5.1 sound mix on "Reasonable Doubt" comes together more smoothly than the visual elements. Some LFE rumble is provided by the sporadic explosive content, offering the soundtrack a punch it isn't otherwise concerned with. Dialogue is crisp and clearly understood, nicely worked into cavernous locations such as building hallways and courtrooms. Scoring selections creep around the surrounds, making for a compelling atmosphere of mystery, never stepping over dialogue exchanges.


English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.


A feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Peter Hyams and actor Jesse Metcalfe attempts to illuminate the sneaky structure of the film, pointing out clues along the way. It's always interesting to see how the magic act was accomplished, but Hyams isn't a consistent speaker, stumbling through the chat, though he tries to come up with useful topics to discuss. Metcalfe doesn't have anything to offer, only around to soak up Hyams's revolting praise for his performance. There are plenty of tips and tricks to digest, but the track rarely hits a compelling stride.

"The Whole Truth: The Making of 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt'" (3:12) is a short promotional piece that burns through cast and crew interviews at top speed to encapsulate the creative process of the film. The brevity is nice, but this is shallow material.

"Criminal Forensics: The Burden of Proof" (3:35) highlights the science of investigation with Det. Richard A. Pfaff, who walks the viewer through the process and mindset of such meticulous police work.

And a Theatrical Trailer is included.


"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is one crummy idea after the next, leading to about three endings too many. It's a film that posits an ambitious protagonist generating a tricky situation that slips beyond his control, watching in horror as his perfect world is destroyed. However, all I could summon while watching this clown of a character go about his moronic business was hope for a speedy execution.

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