Reasonable Doubt should be a great movie. The title and premise suggest an intense legal drama, perhaps something akin to 12 Angry Men or The Lincoln Lawyer. But in the hands of director Peter Howitt (Johnny English) and writer Peter A. Dowling (Flightplan), this is a motion picture which utterly rejects intelligence, adopting a B-movie thriller stance without much in the way of suspense or mystery, or even courtroom proceedings. It’s a big red flag that the movie was unleashed in the dumping ground month of January, and received a video-on-demand release without much fanfare. Even taken as just a trashy thriller, it’s still pretty unsatisfying, as it doesn’t do enough to register as a fun guilty pleasure.
In snowy Chicago, Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) is a hotshot district attorney with a devoted wife, a new baby daughter, and a bright future ahead of him. Heading out for a night of drinking with friends, Mitch makes the ill-advised decision to drive home drunk, which leads to him hitting a pedestrian. Calling for an ambulance, Mitch decides to leave the scene before authorities arrive, as his career could be placed in serious jeopardy. Before long, Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson) is arrested and charged with killing the man, triggering a crisis of conscience for Mitch. Brought in to prosecute Davis, the lawyer tries to play it cool, but Davis is eventually freed once the blame is shifted to another man. However, Mitch begins to dig deeper, uncovering evidence that Davis may in fact be dangerous, and things are not as clear-cut as they seem.
The premise for Reasonable Doubt is terrific, and the twists and turns throughout the narrative are often gripping. It could’ve achieve greatness in proper hands, but it’s handled like a B-movie, with idiotic character behaviour and forced scenes of violence. The flick shows its cards too soon, with Davis established as a deranged killer by the midway point, turning the film into a cat-and-mouse affair instead of a courtroom suspense thriller. Dowling’s script contains little in the way of legal proceedings, in fact, with Mitch mostly sneaking around playing Miss Marple. Coincidences abound (there’s a payphone nearby right when Mitch needs one), there are many contrivances (nobody listens to Mitch’s rational theories), and Mitch at one stage manages to sneak out of a well-guarded police precinct without much trouble. He’s just a DA, yet apparently he has stealth expertise and is quite handy in action. There was plenty of room for Reasonable Doubt to become morally complex, but it doesn’t follow through with its promise. Davis’ backstory is tragic, and his actions could lead to an interesting analysis of the morals of vigilantism. Instead, Davis fast turns into a cartoonish bad guy who (spoilers) will ultimately get a climactic death scene.
At the helm of Reasonable Doubt is Peter Howitt, late of Sliding Doors and Johnny English. Even though he hasn’t created anything note-worthy for about a decade, he peeled his name off the picture, employing the pseudonym of “Peter P. Croudins.” It’s an uncommon move, but not really surprising, as it’s hard to imagine any filmmaker being happy with such a slipshod final cut. While the movie is somewhat watchable, there’s not much style, and one must wonder what a visionary like David Fincher could’ve brought to the project. Reasonable Doubt feels on autopilot for most of its running time, sitting on-screen and refusing to come to life in any thoroughly involving way. It’s 80 minutes of awkwardly-structured, half-hearted storytelling, and it doesn’t help that the acting across the board is so awkward. Dominic Cooper (Marvel’s current Howard Stark) is very mediocre as the hotshot district attorney, with his limited range being frequently brought to light. Faring even worse is Samuel L. Jackson, who was apparently in a coma throughout filming. It’s clear from the outset that Jackson doesn’t care. Perhaps he was intrigued by a more substantive early script draft that was radically rejigged before the cameras began to roll.
It’s hard to feel anything but disappointment after viewing Reasonable Doubt, as it’s full of wasted potential. Not sophisticated or suspenseful enough to be a mature adult thriller, and not fun enough to be a popcorn movie, it’s a flat, moronic picture which will soon fade from memory – and quite deservedly so.