Libby Parsons has it all – a handsome, wealthy husband whom she loves, a son they both adore, a beautiful home near Seattle, wonderful friends. But her idyllic life suddenly turns into a nightmare when her husband Nick (Bruce Greenwood) disappears overboard during a romantic weekend of sailing and she is accused of his murder.
Convicted and imprisoned, Libby begs her best friend, Angie (Annabeth Gish), to adopt her 5-year-old son. Angie agrees and then vanishes with Matty. With the help of prison friends Margaret (Roma Maffia) and Evelyn (Davenia McFadden), Libby uses the telephone to trace them to San Francisco. There, she discovers to her horror, the two are living with Nick, who staged his own “murder” and has adopted a new identity.
Margaret, a disbarred lawyer imprisoned for murdering her husband, pulls Libby back from despair with some comforting news: When Libby finally gets out, she’ll be free to murder Nick – in the middle of Times Square if she wants – because she can’t be tried twice for the same crime. That would be double jeopardy, and she’s already been convicted of killing Nick.
Six years later, Libby is discharged from prison into a halfway house and the care of Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones), a cynical, burnt-out parole officer haunted by failures in his past. Lehman won’t tolerate the slightest breach of the rules, but Libby almost immediately violates parole to track down her son Matty and Nick. Embarrassed by her escape, Lehman becomes as obsessed with finding Libby as she is with finding her son. What begins as a simple, albeit terrifying chase soon turns into an odyssey that changes his life as profoundly as it changes Libby’s.
“What I love about this film is that it has a strong female character,” producer Leonard Goldberg says. “It’s the kind of film that we’ve seen with males before but never a female. When I first heard the idea for the film I thought that it had real surprises, and if it surprises me, then I get interested.”
Goldberg continues: “The most important quality that the female lead had to have was the quality that would make you fall in love with her because she is going to carry you through this movie. The qualities I thought of when we cast the role of Libby were that she is vulnerable but also strong. Vulnerability and likeability – Ashley Judd was a natural fit, and she’s a wonderful actress.” Director Bruce Beresford describes “Double Jeopardy” as both “an entertaining thriller and an interesting study of a woman’s obsessive love for her son, which I found very moving. This is a classic story of someone who’s been wronged, but I think if she hadn’t lost her son, the obsession wouldn’t be there.” “I’ve always wanted to do a thriller,” Beresford continues. “Mostly I’ve made films that were character studies or that explored a particular moment in history that fascinated me. This is very different from anything else I’ve ever done.”
Judd praises Beresford for his close, personal and low-key approach to directing and for helping her with her role by “enhancing my emotional understanding of Libby’s isolation and desperation,” she said. Describing the scene in which Libby makes a telephone call from prison and discovers that Nick is still alive, Judd says: “When I, in shock, hang up the phone and start wandering blankly back to my bunk, instead of what most directors would go for – some kind of close-up shot emphasizing performance – Bruce did something different. He tracked backwards and lost me in the crowd, letting me be overwhelmed by my surroundings and letting the atmosphere of the place be that much more depressing.”
In describing his role in the film, Jones says: “Travis’ professional and personal lives are both pretty much a failure. He’s a former law professor who has fallen on somewhat hard times and is reduced to being a parole officer. He’s cynical, probably jaded, and really just wants no complications in his life at all. And, of course, Ashley’s character proceeds to complicate his life.” The man responsible for both Libby’s misery and, ultimately, Travis’ rebirth, is played by Bruce Greenwood, star of the critically-acclaimed films “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Exotica” and the TV series “Nowhere Man.” He also starred in the 1995 miniseries about Ashley Judd’s famous country music family — “Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build a Bridge.”
Greenwood’s interpretation of Nick is that he’s a man who plays hardball in business, but that he doesn’t start out as a bad person. Nick and Libby’s marriage “came out of love originally and stayed that way for a long time,” Greenwood says. “No marriage is perfect, but we have a pretty good thing going – a beautiful child, a terrific art collection and a lot of high-powered friends, but my ambition gets in the way.”
Nick is willing to jettison his wife, his friends and his very identity in the service of his ambition. But he won’t part with his son; thus ensuring that Libby will never rest until she tracks Nick down.