True Crime (1999)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Andrew Klavan, Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, Stephen Schiff
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, Tom Rooker
Starring Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, James Woods, Diane Venora, Bernard Hill
Two filmmakers inhere within the figure of America's most durable erstwhile leading man: an insightful journeyman whose movies bare a conscientious balance of tough individuality and sensitive characterization, and a prolific purveyor of embarrassingly overheated hokum. Forty minutes of plot are stretched into two egregiously temporized hours in this awful adaptation by the latter of another novel in which Klavan broadcasts his equalitarianism and adulterated conservative values...and tangentially, an incident where a disgraced, alcoholic newsman of licentious impulsivity (Eastwood) intuitively happens upon a discrepancy in the case of a convicted murderer (Washington), whose execution impends hours following their scheduled interview. Only during its last fifteen minutes does any suspense whatever arduously emerge from the mire of this scurvily costive narrative fraught with innumerable and abashing personal vignettes, a glut of puerile dialogue and institutional contrivances that render the entire production as divinable as mortifying. His dream cast weathers Eastwood's uncertain direction with varying, often surprising results: despite their outstanding presence and delivery, veterans Venora and Woods (who enacted superbly in plenteous contemporaneous and inconsequential collaborations with Carpenter, Sofia Coppola, Larry Clark, et al.) are inexplicably hammy and inches off their marks in the roles of Eastwood's gruff senior editor and estranged wife; Michaels Jeter and McKean endue memorable quirk to their ridiculous roles as a natty, unreliable murder witness and a sillily sanctimonious prison chaplain; Leary fares well, typecast as a thornily seething assistant editor as cuckolded by Eastwood's subordinate as Klavan's strain of conservatism has been for decades; curiously, Washington outperforms everyone including his iconic director with a stoic solemnity that braces his cliched, wrongly accused archetype with some desperately necessary plausibility. During every other scene, Eastwood's temperamentally terrific when he isn't so conspicuously self-conscious in a role clearly intended for a man twenty years his junior, but the septuagenarian had at this late date outlived his function as a viable sex symbol, and his stilted, slightly creepy propositions to and flings with women who could well be his granddaughters clearly verify that even the most ruggedly sexy men are subject to expiration dates. That any of these histrions surmounted so much precious persiflage, artlessly voiced exposition and cheesy flashbacks typical of of those in a third-rate televised police procedural might actually be to Eastwood's credit, much as smooth laxation may be ascribed to a sound diet. What Klavan and these three screenwriting hacks ply as humor is unbearable, manifest worst as a shnorring black hobo whose comic relief seems tantamount to a minstrel show, and a dretching scene in which Eastwood hurriedly carts his daughter through the Oakland Zoo to maximal cutesiness prior to a scheduled interview. When a ray of reality bursts through all its smarmy artifice and unidimensional characters, momentary and unintentional comedy is once realized at 1:49:55, when the actual killer's grandmother, in perfect conformity to her stereotype, confesses to Eastwood's reporter: "He wasn't a bad boy, but he did a terrible thing!" Some of Klavan's plot's twists are cleverly contoured, and it's hinged on a twist of modest ingenuity, but his failed fusion of crime drama and soap opera is ultimately as pointless as the private administration of capital punishment. How anyone with 28 years and a score of precedent pictures to his directorial credits can craft something so abysmally amateurish beggars astonishment, but as perhaps the most inconsistent of American cineastes, Eastwood closed the last century with one of his very worst offerings.