True Crime Movie Review

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As a director, Clint Eastwood has one of the sweetestdeals in Hollywood. He gets to make big budget films with no interferencefrom the suits at Warner Bros., the studio with which he has a relationship.

If Clint wants a long movie, he makes a long movie. IfClint 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 reportersuccumbs to the considerably aged and pickled Eastwood "charm."

But most films directed by Clint Eastwood are also so absorbinglywell crafted, it's hard not to forgive his indulgence, and even his glaringloopholes.

"True Crime" is far from perfect, in fact fora story that turns out to be a whodunit, it's brimming over with unansweredquestions. But the characters are so richly abrasive and the storytellingso strong it's possible to really enjoy this movie, even while taking noteof 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 isreluctantly assigned to cover an execution after the untimely death ofthe 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 witchhunt," and sure enough, after only 20 minutes on the story "Ev"is convinced the inmate is innocent and starts Dick Tracy-ing around tryingto 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 sleepswith Leary's wife. He neglects his own wife and his angelic, 5-year-olddaughter (played by his real-life daughter Francesca Fisher-Eastwood).Eastwood fancies Ev as something of a Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade kindof guy.

But at the same time, Ev's habitual argumentative behaviormakes 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 shotsat 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 abit.

But under Eastwood's craftsman hands, the picture holdstogether anyway -- in part because it's not all about Ev.

In a sobering performance, Isaiah Washington plays FrankBeachum, the man on death row who maintains his innocence all the way tothe 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 chainedup for a final meeting with his wailing wife and adorable daughter.

As Ev pesters witnesses and drops in on Beachum for a last-minuteinterview, the film revisits the crime -- the murder of a convenience storeclerk -- and begins to reveal evidence of Beachum's innocence, leadingto a beat-the-clock finale that literally documents the lethal injectiondrip by drip, and is almost laughingly similar to the climax of the movie-within-a-moviefrom "The Player."

Frankly, when it's focused on the murder, "True Crime"(based on the novel by Andrew Klavan) leaks like a sieve. But Eastwoodis such a talented director he makes the film stunning to watch anywayby culling powerful emotions from Washington and Diane Verona as Ev's forsakenwife, and by injecting droll humor in all the right places.

I almost hesitate to recommend "True Crime" becauseit is so inherently flawed, but if you can let go the loopholes and justenjoy the craftsmanship, Eastwood won't let you down.

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True Crime Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, Friday, March 19, 1999


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