127 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, March 19, 1999
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Denis Leary, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Bernard Hill, Diane Verona, Michael McKean & Michael Jeter
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 25%|
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
Eastwood's self-indulgences may seem a little silly on video when on the big screen his style engulfs you enough that you let them slide. He directs on a grand scale, even when telling a smaller story, like this one, so "True Crime" may not play as well on the small screen. Definately worth watching, but keep the medium in mind.
VIDEO RELEASE: 8/10/99
Eastwood's deft direction just makes up for gaping holes in 'True Crime'
As a director, Clint Eastwood has one of the sweetest deals in Hollywood. He gets to make big budget films with no interference from the suits at Warner Bros., the studio with which he has a relationship.
If Clint wants a long movie, he makes a long movie. If Clint wants to dedicate a whole scene to Clint playing apologetic regret, he dedicates a whole scene to it. As such his movies tend to be self-indulgent, and "True Crime" is definitely self-indulgent.
It's also peppered with glaring "yeah, right!" moments, like the scene in which a 23-year-old Oakland Tribune reporter succumbs to the considerably aged and pickled Eastwood "charm."
But most films directed by Clint Eastwood are also so absorbingly well crafted, it's hard not to forgive his indulgence, and even his glaring loopholes.
"True Crime" is far from perfect, in fact for a story that turns out to be a whodunit, it's brimming over with unanswered questions. But the characters are so richly abrasive and the storytelling so strong it's possible to really enjoy this movie, even while taking note of its considerable shortcomings.
Eastwood directs himself as Steve Everett, an ex-drinking, hard-smoking, wife-neglecting, been- run- out- of- every- respectable- newsroom- in- the- country beat reporter for the Oakland Tribune who is reluctantly assigned to cover an execution after the untimely death of the aforementioned 23-year-old rookie reporter babe.
The reluctance comes on the part of his dubious editor (Denis Leary), who points out that "everything for Everett is a witch hunt," and sure enough, after only 20 minutes on the story "Ev" is convinced the inmate is innocent and starts Dick Tracy-ing around trying to prove it before the brother's bell tolls.
Eastwood seems to go out of his way to make Ev unlikable, as if he's challenging himself to make a hero of this louse. Ev sleeps with Leary's wife. He neglects his own wife and his angelic, 5-year-old daughter (played by his real-life daughter Francesca Fisher-Eastwood). Eastwood fancies Ev as something of a Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade kind of guy.
But at the same time, Ev's habitual argumentative behavior makes for some of the movie's best scenes as he and his editor-in-chief (played like a junk yard dog by James Woods) delight in taking pot shots at each other over Ev's "hunches" on this story.
And Woods is right. His hunches are full of humongous holes. So when they turn out to be right the film's credibility slips quite a bit.
But under Eastwood's craftsman hands, the picture holds together anyway -- in part because it's not all about Ev.
In a sobering performance, Isaiah Washington plays Frank Beachum, the man on death row who maintains his innocence all the way to the gas chamber converted for the more "humane" lethal injection. The film spends a third of its time cataloging Beachum's last hours -- declining confession, waiting for a call from the governor and being chained up for a final meeting with his wailing wife and adorable daughter.
As Ev pesters witnesses and drops in on Beachum for a last-minute interview, the film revisits the crime -- the murder of a convenience store clerk -- and begins to reveal evidence of Beachum's innocence, leading to a beat-the-clock finale that literally documents the lethal injection drip by drip, and is almost laughingly similar to the climax of the movie-within-a-movie from "The Player."
Frankly, when it's focused on the murder, "True Crime" (based on the novel by Andrew Klavan) leaks like a sieve. But Eastwood is such a talented director he makes the film stunning to watch anyway by culling powerful emotions from Washington and Diane Verona as Ev's forsaken wife, and by injecting droll humor in all the right places.
I almost hesitate to recommend "True Crime" because it is so inherently flawed, but if you can let go the loopholes and just enjoy the craftsmanship, Eastwood won't let you down.