Reasonable Doubt (2014)
Even a cursory look at the resume of Samuel L. Jackson will give credence to the superstition that there must be some regulation in the SAG by laws that requires the hiring of Mr. Jackson in a considerable number of movies. With over ten dozen titles to his credit Jackson is undeniably one of the more prolific members of his craft currently active in the industry. He is the consummate working actors who have earned his fame and recognition by the public. With curriculum vitae as his it is certainly no wonder that the quality of the movies he is associated with will vary greatly. As much as many fans may want to you can’t hold the actor fully responsible for taking a part in a less than ideal film. After all it is his job to work and most of us have undertaken work for the sake of keeping your experience current. This preamble to the film under consideration, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ is an example of such circumstances. The film is serious flaws but is a showcase for entertaining performances by Mr. Jackson and his co-star, Dominic Cooper. Mr. Cooper has recently significantly increased by his portrayal of the Ian Fleming, creator of the iconic spy, James Bond in the BBC America miniseries, ‘Fleming’. Together this pair of actors provides the main incentive for sitting down to watch this movie.
The title, naturally enough, is derived from the stand of proof required for a jury to find a person accused of a felony as guilty. If there is any doubt that is acceptable to sensible citizen. The typical use of the term is twisted by the circumstances contrived within the context of the story to provide the basis for a legal thriller that in this specific instance fell short of reaching the potential offered by its premise. Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) is a young lawyer with the prospect of a brilliant career in the District Attorney’s office. As a star of his department he is looking forward to rapidly ascending the path stretched out before him. That is until circumstances intervened in the worst possible fashion. One night Brockden was celebrating his latest courtroom victory with friends and associates at a bar. His intension to take a cab home is deterred by some youths exhibiting a keen interest in his vehicle. While driving home Brockden has an accident killing a pedestrian who ran out in front of him. With reason diminished by an increased blood alcohol he flees the scene in a panic. It appears that his career is about to encounter a career ending situation. An iota of decency manages to surface compelling him to call 911 from a modern day plot convince a pay phone.
The next morning Brockden returns to the office anxious and with great trepidation. Much to his delightful surprise his discovers another man has been apprehended and charged with the vehicular manslaughter, Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson). Brockden maneuvers to prosecute the case concerned that an innocent man will be convicted for a crime he is innocent of. This way he can calculatingly perform at less than his usual stellar level and let Davis go free. It was a calculated risk that his career can withstand a loss I one relatively routine case if it will assuage a portion of his guilt. His plan succeeds and Davis is found not guilty. Brockden’s hope that all of this is in his rear view but once again that is not what is about to unfold. Shortly after this Brockden hears about a murder, one that seems to be the work of a serial killer. He gets a sinking feeling when the evidence indicates Davis is responsible. Compelled to get to the bottom of the matter Brockden begins to investigate on his own. When he crosses paths with Davis he is warned in no uncertain terms to drop the matter immediately, if Brockden insists on continuing Davis assures him his wife and infant daughter will be his next victims.
The screenplay was the work of Peter A. Dowling whose previous credits are not exceptionally numerous but include a couple of middling thrillers; ‘Stag Party’ and ‘Flightplan’. The fundamental plot points are reasonably strong but executed in an ambiguous fashion. The script is torn between a pair of conflicting themes; an arrogant young professional tries to literally get away with murder or the escalating menace of a psychopathic killer. Either pathway might have been conducive to a convincing thriller but without a firm commitment either way the situations are heavily diluted. The director, Peter Howitt, has done better helming a movie based on a dichotomy, ‘Sliding Doors’. There he managed to balance two parallel version of the same life with a sense of style. He has played double duty working both sides of the camera on the cancelled before its time television series, ‘Defying Gravity’. He possesses talent that is not properly utilized here. The pacing is inconsistent, dropping the level of tension when is should have continued to simmer in preparation of a climatic escalation. The director distanced himself from this offering by adopting the nom du voyage of Peter P. Croudins. While not quite on the level of disavowing one’s work as the old DGA standard of Alan Smithee it does serve the same purpose here and provides the same cautionary label.
There is a combination of predictability to how the circumstances unfold and more than the usual need to suspend belief in order to accept the number of cascading coincidences driving the story. Mr. Cooper fairs well enough as the yuppie placed under more pressure than he ever encountered previously. While he is believable as the career drive prosecutor he is not able to instill a sufficient degree of humanity into the character. Any regrets that Brockden would experience, at least sufficient to prompt the potentially derailment of his pathway to success is predicated on feeling a modicum of remorse. There is little in how the character is presented to indicate Brockden is capable of such unselfish action. As usual, Mr. Jackson proves that there are no small parts, just small actors, as the old industry bromide goes. He manages to get the most out of what amounts to limited screen time and an almost superficially written antagonist. Still, with an attitude that has made he the entertainer of such stature Mr. Jackson exudes menace using little more than a glance, inflection or his sheer presence.
Behind The Scenes With Cast And Crew Interivews