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Film / Double Jeopardy

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A 1999 thriller directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Elizabeth "Libby" Parsons (Judd) is seemingly Happily Married to Nick (Greenwood) and living an idyllic life with their son Matty. During a night out on their yacht, Libby awakens to find the cabin covered in blood and a knife on the deck. There is no sign of Nick. Since Libby cannot explain what happened to her husband and circumstantial evidence points to her guilt, she is convicted of murder.

Libby is sent to jail to begin her sentence and she entrusts a friend with taking care of Matty. While in prison she discovers that Nick is actually alive and well, and that he framed her for murder. A fellow inmate advises Libby that if he really is alive, she should wait until she is paroled and then kill him for real, and no court could convict her because of the legal concept of double jeopardy: as she has already been convicted of killing Nick, she cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

Six years later, Libby is paroled and placed under the supervision of parole officer Travis Lehman (Jones). Her friend is dead and Matty has disappeared. She soon absconds from parole and sets about trying to find Nick and Matty with Lehman in pursuit. Only now, two former spouses are out to kill each other. Lehman has to figure what is going on and make a stand of his own.

Not to be confused with the second round of the game show.

The film provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Lehman
  • Apathetic Citizens: A bartender shreds Libby' s "Wanted" poster, declaring, "No reward. Screw 'em.", advises her that they will be posted all over town, then caps it off by giving her an umbrella and urging her to get out of there before the cops show up. The viewer knows that Libby is innocent, but he doesn't and for all he knows, he's happily aiding and abetting a fugitive all because there's nothing in it for him if he turns her in.
  • Artistic License Law: The film states that the double jeopardy defense prevents a person from being tried twice for the same crime. However, this is a poor oversimplification and ultimately incorrect. Double Jeopardy is the defense that an accused person cannot be prosecuted for the same charges, meaning that the facts of the case must be the same, so Libby could not be charged again for Nick's "murder" on the boat. In truth, she would definitely be prosecuted for Nick's murder in the hotel, because that is a different set of facts. The murder at the beginning of the movie and the murder at the end of the movie are two different events.
  • Asshole Victim/Laser-Guided Karma: Angie being killed by Nick. Could she really have expected any better from a guy who cheats on his wife and plans to frame her for murder?
  • Bait-and-Switch: Nick and Libby are snuggling outside when Angie comes to join them. She and Nick exchange a look, then solemnly declare, "We should tell her before someone else does", almost making the viewer think they're about to confess to an affair... only to have it turn out that Nick bought Libby a boat and that Angie was helping him arrange the surprise. Then it's subverted in that it's just as we expected—they WERE having an affair and those furtive looks were about them putting their dastardly plan into action.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Nick is about to shoot Lehman for a second time and finish him off when Libby manages to grab her own gun and put several bullets into him.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: A post-coital Libby wakes up covered in blood. She follows the trail from their cabin to the deck of the boat and, of course, picks up the bloody knife that she finds there. Sure enough, the Coast Guard appears right then, with Libby looking exactly as how Nick wanted her to look — as though she just stabbed Nick and threw his body overboard.
  • The Big Easy: The entire third act takes place in New Orleans, showing off as much of it as the film can squeeze in 30 minutes.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Angie acts as Libby's best friend and even "reluctantly" agrees to adopt Matty (supposedly not wanting to replace Libby as his mother) when the whole time, she's been having an affair with Nick and planning to run off with him after framing Libby for murder.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • When confronted by Libby, Nick feebly claims that he faked his death to avoid his creditors and didn't intend for her to be convicted, that his relationship with Angie happened afterwards, and that her death was an accident, but she isn't buying it.
    • When Libby tracks down Angie in San Francisco and phones her, Angie assures her that she was just about to call.
  • The Bluebeard: Nick. Gets rid of one woman by framing her for murder and sending her to prison, then tries to kill her when she gets out and tracks him down. Kills another when he either gets bored with her or worried that she'll spill the beans.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Rather than just kill Libby, Nick knocks her unconscious and shuts her in a coffin, and helpfully also leaves her with a gun and a lighter, thus risking her waking up and escaping, which is exactly what she does.
  • Buried Alive: How Nick tries to get rid of Libby after she tracks him down.
  • Car Fu: Libby uses her pickup truck to trash Lehman's car and drives over the sidewalk in order to get away from him.
  • Cassandra Truth: Libby wailing that she didn't kill Nick in the face of overwhelming evidence.
  • Charity Ball: Where Libby confronts Nick.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At the beginning of the movie, Nick is discussing a Kandinsky artwork with a houseguest. The identical work is visible in a picture of the house destroyed in the gas explosion and Libby tracks the buyer of one of Nick's collection of Kandinskys to find Nick in New Orleans.
  • Children Are Innocent: Matty blows the whole scheme with one word — "Daddy!" — cheerfully greeting his father as he returns home. At the end, he is remarkably calm to be greeted by a mother he not only hasn't seen in six years but was told was dead.
  • Clear My Name: Libby, regarding her husband. Not only did she not kill him, but also he's not even dead.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Nick grabs her and knocks her out (during the cemetery scene), where he had said she'd meet their son. Nick is also about to shoot her when Lehman manages to get up and jump on him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Libby's lawyer stuns her by telling her that Nick was in dire financial straits and that several investors were suing him for embezzlement.
  • Cry into Chest: As an infuriated Libby storms towards Jonathan's hotel, having escaped from the coffin he stuffed her into, she's snatched and pulled into an alleyway by Lehman, who sternly tells her "It's over, Libby." Exhausted and overwhelmed, she finally breaks down in tears and collapses into his arms.
  • Disposable Woman: Angie, almost literally. Nick kills her very soon after running off with her now that she's served her purpose of helping him pull off his scheme.
  • Distaff Counterpart/Gender Flip: Libby is essentially the first trope to Richard Kimble and the film is the second to The Fugitive, given the myriad of similarities between the two—see "Recycled Premise" below.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Nick. And Lehman and Libby threaten to pull the same stunt on Nick, regarding her, if he does not turn over their son.
    • Nick has already been doing this with Libby — when she and Matty are reunited at the end, he tells her that he was told that she was dead.
  • Father's Quest: The movie has convicted murderer Libby paroled from prison, whereupon she aims to find her son, now a teenager. Libby manages to find him, but also finds her ex-husband, who is the man Libby was convicted of killing. Both son and ex are very much alive.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Even if the trailer hadn't already told you everything, the little look exchanged between Nick and Angie just before he reveals that he bought Libby a boat should tip off even the most Genre Blind viewer to the fact that something's going on between them (one of the few things that was left out of the trailer).
    • During the party, an associate of Nick's repeatedly tries to talk to him about business matters, only to be brushed off. We soon learn that it was this that led to Nick's scheme.
  • Girls Behind Bars: Despite two of Libby's cellmates outright admitting that they're murderers, they and the other prisoners get along fairly well with her, offering advice and encouragement on surviving and getting released.
  • Heroic BSoD: Libby after Nick is supposedly killed, then after she realizes he's alive and that the beloved husband she's been mourning is a deceitful bastard.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • As pointed out by pretty much everyone, including this column, the whole plot runs on this. Libby is framed by her husband for his own murder and serves prison time. When she gets paroled, she hunts him down and brags that she could kill him and get away with it because she's already been convicted of that crime and double jeopardy means she can't be prosecuted for it again. Problem is, she was convicted of that crime (that is, of "murdering" him at that specific time, in that specific place). Hunting him down to another city and killing him there, then, would be another crime entirely, and thus she could be justly convicted of it. As one review pointed out, if the double jeopardy law actually worked this way, someone could rob a store, do their jail time for it, and then spend the rest of their life robbing that same store whenever they wanted with complete impunity.
    • There's also the two dozen other crimes Libby commits while proving her innocence, like burglary, theft, destruction of property, escape from custody, assault on a law enforcement officer, unlicensed possession of a firearm/felon in possession of a firearm, transporting an unlicensed weapon across state lines, assault with intent to kill (all of them violating her parole, which would send her back to prison) and probably more, which could put her away for years themselves, perhaps even for the same time or longer than her original sentence. Being wrongly convicted of one crime doesn't mean you can commit a load more without any consequences. Not to mention the fact that she didn't actually kill him that first time... note 
    • Her lawyer should also have been able to get her acquitted or a mistrial the first time. As bad as things may have looked (her covered in his blood and holding the knife, the hefty insurance policy), there should have been a myriad of people to testify to their (ostensibly) happy marriage. Surely, even ONE juror would have harbored enough reasonable doubt to cause a hung jury.
    • As is par for the course with TV and movies, Libby testifies at her trial. While not forbidden, even the worst defense attorney knows that this is a bad idea. Sure enough, Libby runs into trouble when despite her truthful pleas of innocence, she can't offer any explanation as to Nick's death — which is yet another example of this trope. It's not the defense's job to prove the accused's innocence, just to offer reasonable doubt as to guilt.
    • Hell, if the police had bothered testing the damn blood found at the crime scene, the whole scheme would have fallen apart. Forensic testing in the late 90's might not be what it is today, but the ability to discern human blood from animal has been around since 1901 — and unless Nick and Angie actually murdered someone, they had to have used animal blood to create that gory of a scene.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Nick attempts to kill Libby by burying her alive in an above ground tomb, and he doesn't take away her gun, although in all fairness, he might not have remembered that she had one.
    • Libby counts too, for trusting Nick during the whole cemetery scene. Of course, she was desperate to see her son, but still. The irony of this is that she asked him to meet her in a public place to no doubt deter him from doing anything to her, only to fall into his trap anyway.
    • Libby also commits breaking and entering to find Angie. Were it not for managing to escape, she would have been sent right back to prison.
  • Inheritance Murder: It is assumed that Libby killed Nick for the insurance money, even though she appears to have been clueless both about his financial situation and about how large the policy was.
  • Inspector Javert: Lehman. Aside from not believing Libby's claims of innocence in the first place, he's shown to harshly punish anyone who violates the terms of their parole and send them back to prison.
  • It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: Not specifically stated, but Libby crashes a charity gala then later walks through one of New Orleans' perpetual street parties. Presumably, both are being held to celebrate the holiday. She outright says to Nick, "I could shoot you in the middle of Mardi Gras...", indicating that it is that time of the year.
  • Kiss Diss: As Libby publicly confronts her duplicitous husband, she turns her head as he tries to kiss her, invoking "oohs" from the observing crowd.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: How Nick got rid of Angie. After tracking them down, Libby is informed by a neighbor that she was killed when a gas main exploded beneath the home. Libby's deadpan response of "I'm sure" when the woman tells her how grief-stricken Nick was makes it clear that she knows what really happened.
  • Mama Bear: The sole thing that keeps Libby going is her desire to be reunited with her son. She's even willing to leave Nick alone and not blow his cover story as long as he gives him to her.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Libby is wrongly convicted of murdering her husband and spends several years in prison.
  • Mistaken from Behind: Lehman, while pursuing Libby amongst a sea of other umbrella holding pedestrians in New Orleans, seemingly catches her, only to find that it's someone else with a similar umbrella.
  • Motive = Conclusive Evidence: The prosecution claims Libby killed Nick for the insurance money, harping on the fact that she's the beneficiary, ignoring the fact that (a) given that she was his wife, she would naturally be this, and (b) as a wealthy couple, the payout would be larger than average. When she tries to explain to her own lawyer that Nick got the policy to make sure that she and their son would be okay in the event of his death, he counters with "there's a big difference between "okay" and two million dollars". He then mentions that Nick was actually in serious financial trouble, shocking Libby as she wasn't aware of this.
  • Never Found the Body: Nick. Justified as he isn't even dead, but even if he were, the natural assumption is that his body was swept out to sea after having been thrown overboard.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Travis and Libby. Most movies would have had them hook up or at least hint at it by the end, but there isn't a shred of attraction or sexual tension between them.
  • Off to Boarding School: What Nick has done with Matty. Granted, it seems to be a very nice place and he looks happy there, but it seems to add another layer of Jerkassery to Nick for sending him away rather than keeping him with him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nick's reaction when Libby approaches him at the gala, then when she confronts him in his office.
  • Ominous Legal Phrase Title: Named after the principle that one can't be tried twice for the same offense.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Lehman is shot in the shoulder in the scuffle between him, Nick, and Libby, but true to form, is wearing only a sling in the final scene.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Libby may not bulk up all that much, but she Took a Level in Badass — understandable since she's gaining skills with which to murder the husband who framed her.
  • Recycled Premise: A person wrongly convicted of murdering their spouse escaping from custody, determined to track down those responsible, pursued and eventually aided by an equally determined lawman played by Tommy Lee Jones? No, this isn't The Fugitive (or another sequel), but as numerous reviews pointed out, it's basically a female version of it, right down to a misleading 911 call, Libby wailing "I didn't kill my husband" (just as Kimble lamented about his wife), and later being chased though a street fair just barely eluding capture.
  • Scenery Porn: Washington, and New Orleans.
  • Shout-Out: Roma Maffia (jailed lawyer Margaret) played another lawyer in Disclosure.
  • The Sociopath: Nick, who has zero remorse or empathy and saw everyone in his life as nothing. He discards and frames his wife for his murder so he can use their insurance to get out of financial debt, kills his mistress who helped him with the scheme sometime later, is a smooth liar and con artist, and tries to kill Libby and a law enforcement officer to get away with his crimes. Also sent his son to a boarding school hundreds of miles away, showing he only cared about using him for the insurance.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Libby peeks out from a store display at Lehman. By the time he looks in her direction, a mere two seconds later, she's gone.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Libby fires a gun TWICE right next to her ear while trapped inside a sealed coffin. She cringed in pain momentarily, but is otherwise unharmed. In real life she'd have been left completely deaf.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: Libby is tied to a car in handcuffs, as she tries to escape the car she drives into the lake sinking rapidly.
  • Wealthy Yacht Owner: Nick makes enough to give Libby an expensive sailboat as a present. Or perhaps not, as even before his "death", she asks if they can afford it, then afterwards, is told by her lawyer that he was actually in financial straits.
  • Wham Line/The Reveal: Matty cheerfully greeting "Daddy!" as he comes home... while on the phone with Libby. It takes two seconds for the shocked Libby to realize that the beloved husband she's been mourning is a duplicitous bastard who's been cheating on her and framed her for a murder that didn't even happen.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: As discussed above, Libby commits numerous crimes in the course of tracking down her husband, whom she's planning to kill (and DOES kill, albeit by that point, it was a genuine case of self-defense rather than a revenge killing), all of which appear to have been completely disregarded by the time the film ends. Granted, it would be possible for her to plead out in exchange for time-served credit.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Libby wails this verbatim while testifying at her trial.