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BEREFORD'S DOUBLE JEOPARDY
An Analysis of Bruce Bereford's Double Jeopardy
Introduction to Film
Professor Kim Elliott-White
Double Jeopardy (1999) is a thriller by Austrailian director Bruce Bereford, which stars Ashley Judd as Elizabeth "Libby" Parsons, a woman wrongly accused of murdering her husband, Bruce Greenwood as Nicholas "Nick" Parsons/Simon Ryder/Jonathan Devereaux, Libby's husband, and Tommy Lee Jones, as Travis Lehman, a former law professor who is Libby's parole officer and eventually helps her to reunite with her son, Matty, and clear her name. Bereford's previous directorial successes include Academy Award winning Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Black Robe (1991), and Tender Mercies (1984), his first U.S. feature, which earned him his first and only Academy Award Nomination for Best Director to date. Despite these early and criticial successes, Double Jeopardy (1999) was critically panned and was referred to as "not a successful thriller, but with some nice dramatic scenes along with the dumb mystery and contrived conclusion" by Roger Ebert (1999) when it was first released. Double Jeopardy (1999) relies heavily on a contrived narrative and the successes of its star actors, but fails to highlight Beresford's abilities as a director, which results in an easily forgettable, generic film.
Double Jeopardy (1999) is the story of a Libby and how she was framed by her husband, who at the same time, faked his own death, assumed another identity, and abducted her son. Her alleged best friend, Angela Green, played by Annabeth Gish, conspired with Libby's husband to rid themselves of Libby. Nick is able to successfully carry out his plan by disappearing without a trace from the boat he and Libby were on in the middle of the night whilst Libby slept and by calling 911 and claiming that his wife was attacking him, which prompted the police to arrive to the boat as Libby woke up and was searching for her husband. As a result of her husband's successful scheme, Libby was found guilty of murder and sent to prison, where she almost immediately befriended two other female inmates that would help to provide her with the emotional and psychological support she needs to make it to her parole, and subsequently, track down her conniving husband. The narrative of this film unfolds in chronological order over the course of more or less six years. The exact time that has passed is not easily determined because there are no indications of how much time passed between the time Libby's husband faked his death, to the determination that he was dead -- since no body was recovered -- to how long she waited for her case to go to trial. Furthermore, no indication is given that Libby has been incarcerated for six years besides a mention by Libby claiming that she cannot believe that it has been six years since she was incarcerated (Double Jeopardy, 1999). The film is devoid of any literary elements that would serve to create a secondary meaning, nor does it serve as an allegory. The narrative plot is simple in construct and is predictable. Furthermore, it rehashes the trope of a mysterious disappearance or death at sea and the trope of an individual that is wrongfully accused and will do anything to clear his or her name.
The characters in Double Jeopardy (1999) are difficult to find credible, however, it is not because they have been miscast or bad actors, but because the film fails to demonstrate or emphasize their acting range. Judd had previously been cast as a strong female lead in Kiss the Girls (1997) in which she played an intern who had been kidnapped and must fight for her life. While Bereford may have been able to recapture Judd's performance as a strong female who fights against her oppressor and manages to triumph, thereby restoring balance and achieving justice. However, Judd's performance falls flat because the narrative does not provide her with the tools necessary to be a compelling character. Libby is portrayed as a happily married, beautiful woman -- until she is not, who inexplicably has everything she needs handed to her; she immediately befriends a former attorney in jail who helps to introduce her to the concept of double jeopardy and a man who helps her to conduct an Internet search on Angela Green without her asking for help. Moreover, Libby is able to travel from Washington to Colorado to Louisiana with no apparent access to money or the necessary resources needed to travel across the country, especially since Libby was a fugitive and had violated the conditions of her parole (Double Jeopardy, 1999). Similarly, Jones appears to have been cast as Lehman based on his previous successes as a no-nonsense, law enforcement agent in his previous two films, U.S. Marshalls (1998) and Men In Black (1997). In Double Jeopardy (1999), Lehman assumes a similar role as in his previous two works; like in U.S. Marshalls, Jones is tracking an escaped convicted criminal -- although out on parole -- across the country based on the clues she leaves behind and helps her to restore judicial balance. Although, Lehman is supposed to have been conflicted and haunted by his past, his character is too two-dimensional to allow for Jones to grow as an individual, to be transformed from a no-nonsense parole officer to someone who believes Libby is innocent of murdering her husband.
Double Jeopardy (1999) lacks any real significant attributes that allow Beresford to differentiate the film from other films. Beresford's visual style is very direct and only depicts what the narrative requires. Although the film does not rely on visual style to help to propel the narrative forward, one of the most stylistic scenes is depicted when Libby is on trial for her husband's murder. These scene is dimly lit and, for the most part, devoid of natural light, save for a wall of venetian blinds situated behind the jury that allows natural light to shine through, which produces a lighting effect similar to the ones found in film noir. The courtroom itself is dimly lit with table lamps and light fixtures on the wall providing minimal amounts of light. While the courtroom is supposed to create a feeling of intimidation, and while the lighting attempts to create a confining environment, the room itself, and depiction thereof, is too open and creates a dischord between what is occurring and what Libby is supposed to feel. Despite the confinement that Libby is supposed to experience in prison, it is not possible to convey this feeling to the audience because of the liberties that Libby is afforded. She is not imprisoned within an individual cell, but rather is shown to be confined to a prison where women are not given individual cells but rather forced to sleep in barrack-like wings. Furthermore, she is given the freedom to work in the kitchen, to be a hair stylist, and to be in the prison yard regardless of the weather. Additionally, scene composition does not vary greatly and attempts to force the viewer to focus on static characters in a predictable narrative without adding an element of surpise or any allure to the film
Within a film, editing is supposed to guide the narrative and help the director fulfill his vision. The editing of the film transitions from one scene to the next without varying the length of sequence or the shots used, thus creating a consistent pace that does not change during climaxes or plot shifts. Double Jeopardy (1999) exclusively presents the events of the film from a third person perspective, the audience's point-of-view, and does not provide subjective points-of-view. There is a clear disconnect between the film and the audience as no attempt is made to integrate the audience into the narrative. The audience is simply a bystander, watching what happens from the outside
Sound is often used in film to help enhance the action, tone, or mood. Sound can be diegetic, which means that it is part of the film's action. In Double Jeopardy (1999), the majority of the sound in the film is diegetic and helps to emphasize the action of the film. Significant uses of diegetic music occurs in Libby's third leg of her search for her husband and child. In this part of the narrative, Libby has found her way to New Orleans and live jazz music, at a banquet and at a funeral, are used to create an atmosphere often associated with the city. However, there are a handful of instances in which non-diegetic sound is used in an attempt to enhance the tone or mood of a particular scene. The first instance of non-diegetic sound occurs towards the beginning of the film when Nick informs Libby that he has just bought a yacht and that they are going to take a trip shortly. The music in this sequence is supposed to invoke feelings of bliss and pleasure, and is supposed to convey to the audience that…[continue]
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