Renowned and versatile Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford tells STACK how he wound up taking the helm of the 1999 thriller Double Jeopardy.
Amongst the select few Australian filmmakers who have scaled the heights of Hollywood, Bruce Beresford proudly stands atop alongside mates like Peter Weir and Phillip Noyce – directors from the “New Wave” era of Aussie cinema in the 1970s, which had the international studios clambering for their talents.
Beresford made a name for himself at home with iconic Aussie-centric ‘70s classics like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Don’s Party, and within a decade – following a string of important homegrown titles including Breaker Morant and Puberty Blues – he was shaking up Hollywood with Tender Mercies in 1983, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and afforded Robert Duvall his only Academy Award.
A star-studded string of films followed, including Crimes of the Heart, Black Robe and the highly celebrated Driving Miss Daisy. The films kept on coming, and Beresford wrapped up the ‘90s with the unassuming thriller Double Jeopardy, starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones.
This slick crime thriller involves a woman falsely convicted of her husband’s murder, who exploits the legal double jeopardy clause in order to exact vengeance. In reality the double jeopardy clause suggests that no person can be convicted of the same crime twice, but of course the legalities were treated lightly when it came to making the movie.
Reflecting on Double Jeopardy with STACK, Beresford admits that it was a very far-fetched story to begin with.
“People always seem to enjoy it. I mean the story doesn’t make any sense at all, but that doesn’t seem to matter,” he laughs, before recalling a particular moment with his leading man, Tommy Lee Jones.
“Tommy Lee said to me one day, ‘Bruce, you’re so lucky that I’m in this film.’ And I said, ‘Why am I so lucky, Tommy Lee?’ And he said, ‘Who else could deliver this lousy dialogue and make it sound so convincing?’”
Recalling how Double Jeopardy landed in his lap following a failed project, he says, “I had been in London to set up a film called ‘Our Country’s Good’, which was all financed but we couldn’t find any actors who wanted to do it. And finally, after about a year of this, we just gave up. I mean, although we had the money to make the film, nobody wanted to act in it. I couldn’t understand it.
“So then my agent called me from Los Angeles and said, ‘Look, you’ve been buggering around on that film in England for too long, and I’ve got a script here that they want you to do and I think you should do it.’ It was Double Jeopardy.”
The film came along at a time when highly stylised thrillers were populating cinema complexes to a point where Beresford even recalls it clashing with another movie of the same name.
“Actually, the same studio, Paramount, had made a film called Double Jeopardy the year before,” he laughs. “It had Rachel Ward and another big name actor I can’t remember now. I called the studio and I said, ‘Do you realise you made a movie called Double Jeopardy last year?’ And they said to me, ‘Oh don’t worry, nobody saw that.’”
In retrospect, Double Jeopardy withstands the test of time and is, perhaps, far more entertaining now than it was upon release. It stacks up against its contemporaries and remains a taught – albeit preposterous – thriller due solely to the integrity of its director and the calibre of its talent.
Beresford’s career could be described as eclectic and his body of work showcases a multitude of genres as well as different perspectives within said genres. In fact, no two films of his are alike, and he is difficult to pigeonhole. When asked whether his career trajectory has been intentional, he admits it’s all quite simple.
“All that happens is every project takes so much time and thought that I always want the next one to be different, because otherwise I just get bored.”