Rated R - Running time: 2:07 - Released 3/19/99

At the risk of being called unAmerican, I have to admit I've never been much of a Clint Eastwood fan. I can see the value of his directing efforts in films like Unforgiven and Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. But in judging Eastwood as an actor, I have had trouble seeing very much range in the guy. If squinting his eyes and saying, "Do you feel lucky, punk?" is the most expressive he can get, that just doesn't do it for me. And True Crime, starring Eastwood, produced by Eastwood, directed by Eastwood, doesn't do it for me, either.

True Crime gives us the same perspective as Dead Man Walking: the humanity of the death-row inmate. But unlike Dead Man, which contained real, heartfelt emotion, this film is a melodramatic mess. Written by Larry Gross (The Game), Paul Brickman (Risky Business), and Stephen Schiff (The Deep End Of the Ocean), based on the novel by Andrew Klavan, this script has people saying things no human being in his right mind would ever say, and doing the impossible (like attempting to solve a case and exonerate a death row inmate within 6 hours of his execution). Eastwood's camera consistently lingers too long on people's suffering, until you think the actor's going to finally look up at the camera and say, "Are we done yet?" It's as if, to make up for his own stony indifference, he encourages scenery-chewing among the other actors, especially the inmate's wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and daughter (Penny Bae Bridges), wallowing in their drippy passions until long after the point is made.

Eastman plays Steve Everett, a reporter for the Oakland Tribune in California (and a recovering alcoholic, of course; every actor over 60 has to incorporate that into his character these days), who is assigned an interview with San Quentin inmate Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington) on the day before his lethal injection. Within minutes of getting the assignment from his angry city editor (Denis Leary), he begins cogitating about this case where Beachum allegedly shot a pregnant girl, killing her and her baby. Even though the case has long since been over and years have gone by, he re-interviews the witnesses (primarily an edgy Michael Jeter) and figures out vital information that the attorneys missed. Even though they worked for months uncovering every clue they could find, he discovers this key evidence in one afternoon, based on his "hunch." Even though he doesn't seem to care about his wife (Diane Venora) leaving him, and his preschool daughter (Francesca Ruth Eastwood) almost getting a concussion from his carelessness, he suddenly has all the compassion in the world for a stranger on death row.

What this film is trying to illustrate is the speed at which the racist public jumps to the conclusion that if a black man is on the scene at a murder, he must have done it. But the text is so insipid and the emotional posturing so overdone, they mock the subject. The exchanges between Eastwood and James Woods, who plays his boss, is pretentious and rehearsed, like vaudeville patter. This would be okay if the film were a comedy. But no — it's got moral issues and axes to grind; it's got a message for us ignorant chumps. And if that's the case, then this flippant dialogue is inappropriate. **

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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