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True Crime  

Starring: Clint Eastwood, James Woods, Denis Leary, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Diane Venora, Michael Jeter, Bernard Hill, Frances Fisher, Anthony Zerbe Directed by: Clint Eastwood Written by: Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, and Stephen Schiff Based On the Novel by Andrew Klavan

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Clint Eastwood has a directing style I admire very much. Unlike many movies out of Hollywood, his films are driven by their characters. The stories unfold through the feelings, ambitions, fears, desires, and ultimate actions of those involved. Often times, he deals more with little details rather than forcing the plot to a routine, compromised climax.

Eastwood plays Steve Everett, a reporter who is famous (or infamous, as the case may be) for having "gut feelings" regarding many of the stories he reports on. Investigative reporters rely heavily on intuition, but Everett has recently suffered a major blow to his credibility; we learn that he publicly fought to get the conviction of a rapist overturned, only to have the felon confess to the crime later. When a young reporter set to do a human interest sidebar on a death row inmate is killed in a car accident, the editor-in-chief of the Oakland Tribune (James Woods) hires Everett to do the story instead. This doesn't sit well with the newspaper's assignment editor (Denis Leary). This is a human interest piece, and he is convinced Everett will try to "dig up" something and turn it into an unnecessary investigation. The convicted felon is Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington), and he is scheduled to be executed one minute after midnight. Naturally, Everett has his suspicions, and thus, starts poking around, asking questions, doing more research than is generally done for a simple human interest story.

Eastwood pays close attention to detail here, especially in showing us the necessary preparations for the execution. We see the warden (Bernard Hill) explaining to Beechum step-by-step what will take place during his last hour of his life. We also get shots of the guards documenting every mundane detail of the prisoner's final hours of existence - the exact time he awakes, when he requests something, when he goes to the bathroom, and so forth. I like that attention to detail, and I also liked the way the movie shows us the eccentricities of it's characters. Steve Everett may be a good reporter, but he is a lousy husband and an irresponsible father. He is unfaithful to his wife (Diane Venora), is currently having an affair with the assignment editor's wife, and has no respect whatsoever for any type of authority. We learn as the film opens that Everett has been on the wagon for two months, yet he still carries the reckless behavior associated with any form of addiction. This is clearly shown when he takes his daughter to the zoo, and in an effort to make a meeting on time, pushes her in the stroller at a dangerously high speed, showing her the animals as quickly as possible until the stroller tips over and she gets hurt. That kind of attention to character results in many interesting moments.

The other performances add to the film, including Michael Jeter as a witness who has recounted his "testimony" so many times to so many people, he actually becomes offended when Everett doesn't pull out his tape recorder while the they talk in a restaurant. I also like the character of Barbara, Everett's wife. When he tries to reconcile with her by explaining that he finally understands what went wrong, she quickly stops him. "You can't line up all the facts and think you know something about me," she says. And she's right. His instincts may have helped him break big stories and uncover scandals, but those very same paranoia-derived instincts have driven him further and further from any kind of true meaning in his life. And James Woods is in top form here, playing Alan Mann, the Oakland Tribune's cynical chief editor. One of his best moments comes when he wryly explains that issues are something the media creates so the average citizen won't feel guilty about his fascination with blood and gore.

Tremendous performances across the board coupled with Eastwood's skillful direction make "True Crime" a truly involving film.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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