Reasonable Doubt kicks off with a serviceably nasty premise for an ironic legal noir. Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) is a standard-issue, mostly only-in-the-movies hotshot district attorney (great looking wife and family, never loses a case, prone to big speeches) who makes a fateful decision to drive home sloshed one night after a spirited evening of knocking back tequila with his colleagues. Attention soon drawn to a cop he believes to be tailing him, Mitch accidentally runs a man over and leaves him for dead in the middle of a winter night, under the willed delusion that he’s done his victim a solid for having called 911 at a nearby phone booth. The next morning, Mitch discovers that someone else, Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson), was stopped by the police while carrying the corpse of Mitch’s hit-and-run victim, who Clinton claims he was trying to save. All the police see, however, is the blood all over Clinton’s clothes, and the dead body in his van, which is to say that Mitch is soon faced with prosecuting an innocent man for a murder that he inadvertently committed.
It’s at this point that most viewers, conditioned by a great tradition of thrillers concerned with assholes who are pressed into a situation driven by an increasingly tightening moral vice, will assume that Reasonable Doubt will follow Mitch as he flexes his powers of legalese in such a manner as to lose the Davis case while outwardly appearing to pursue it with his usual opportunistic fervor. Unfortunately, director Peter P. Croudins and screenwriter Peter A. Dowling have quite a bit more plot to get through yet, as their film switches conceits two or three more times before eventually settling on a rushed, unsatisfying conclusion. A quasi-wrong-man story soon becomes the tale of an avenging serial killer that eventually begets a film about doppelgangers who reflect the complementing yin and yang of the haves and have-nots of working-class American society.
This abundance of premise doesn’t flatter Reasonable Doubt, as you may feel as if you’re watching two or three abbreviated episodes of Law & Order in quick succession rather than a fully realized movie. The subtext of class that haunts the film—the notion that Clinton reminds Mitch of his own carefully submerged, working-class background—is never sufficiently explored, and so Clinton is never able to fully emerge as a terrifying manifestation of the brutal karma that Mitch unleashed when he crawled into his SUV hammered one night. Dashing the spell further is Croudins’s slack, literal-minded direction, which emphasizes far too many earnest close-ups set to an overwrought score that intends to will thrills that might have actually been achieved had the narrative been relayed with a sense of rhythm less haphazardly derivative of thrillers past. In conclusion, Your Honor, it’s perfectly reasonable to doubt this film’s merits as even a casual time-killer, particularly when one takes into consideration that great wealth of good films available in this genre, most recently the vastly superior Arbitrage.