True Crime (1999)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, James Woods, Diane Venora, Francesca Fisher-Eastwood, Michael Jeter, Mary McCormack, Frances Fisher, Lucy Alexis Liu.
1999 127 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 21, 1999.
As with 1995's "The Bridges of Madison County" and 1997's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," actor-director Clint Eastwood has successfully adapted a well-recieved novel to the screen, this time it being Andrew Klavan's "True Crime." Although unread by me, this film version is a taut, if somewhat overstuffed, suspense-drama, that is worlds better than a similar Eastwood picture that was also adapted from a novel, 1997's "Absolute Power."
Eastwood stars as crackerjack newspaper reporter Steve Everett, a man pushing his late-60's who nonetheless is always getting involved with much younger women, and cheating on his wife, Barbara (Diane Venora). When a well-liked young colleague of his (Mary McCormack) is in a car accident after drinking-and-driving and is killed, Everett finds himself getting her original job of interviewing Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington), a black man on death row for a crime he claims he didn't commit, only hours before his planned execution that night. Looking through the case records, Everett finds that there were two witnesses during the fateful day when Frank allegedly went into a convenience store and shot and killed the female worker there, who happened to be six months pregnant. One of the witnesses only saw Frank run out of the store, while the other walked in to only see him holding the gun, but neither heard the shot. While investigating the store, Everett discovers that the witness' story of seeing Frank with a gun was impossible since there was a large stand of potato chips blocking his view. Convinced Frank really is innocent, Everett only has a small number of hours to find out what actually did happen, so that Frank will be saved from his impending death.
As with the superior "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," one of the delights in "True Crime" is Eastwood's, as well as screenwriters' Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, and Stephen Schiff, effortless handling of the wide array of character, from those already mentioned, to Beachum's grieving wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton), Everett's precocious, neglected daughter (Eastwood's real-life daughter, Francesca Fisher-Eastwood), and Everett's fast-talking editor (James Woods) and edgy co-worker (Denis Leary). The treasure of watching these characters is in the writing, which might only give some of the people a handful of scenes, but is able to develop each one enough so that we feel we know them. On the one hand, the many characters and stories swarming around occasionally become slightly unbelievable since the movie takes place within a 24-hour period, but on the other hand, they are very well-done. One of the unexpected subplots that snuck up on me and acquired a heartbreaking pay-off involved Everett's rocky relationship with his wife, played by Venora in an assured, precise turn. All performances, in fact, are memorable, but the others that stand out include Washington, who doesn't make one false note in portraying a man terrified of dying, and yet knows he must be strong for his wife and daughter; Hamilton, who was also wonderful in last year's "Beloved"; and Michael Jeter, as one of the witnesses who firmly believes Beachum was holding a gun...or does he?
At the center of everything is Eastwood in his first screen appearance in two years, and he really is very good here, although I did have some problems with the way his sex life was portrayed. Portrayed as irresisitible to all women, even those still in their teenage years, Eastwood has significantly aged recently, looking even slightly older than his actual age of 68. Unlike Robert Redford, who is now in his 70's and still could pass for a good-looking fiftysomething, Eastwood holds no such scrutiny in a plot contrivance that I could have done without.
Another irksome matter, though one that might have stood out even more in the hands of a less-professional filmmaker, is the story itself. So many similar movies have been made recently about the exact same subject (1995's "Dead Man Walking," 1996's "Last Dance," 1996's "The Chamber") that there could virtually be a new film genre invented. Even if intelligent and effective, Eastwood might have been better off choosing a more original premise for a movie he was going to spend at least a year of his life on.
Despite its commonplace storyline and a few small qualms, "True Crime" is a respectable film, particularly in its unequivocal details involving the characters and genuinely unpredictable outcome (even though the very last scene didn't quite sit well with me). Clint Eastwood is a true craftsman, as he usually proves with each of his directing jobs, and it is due largely to his expertise in character and dialogue that "True Crime" rises above its tried-and-true plot outline.
©1999 by Dustin Putman