Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 2, 2016)
Though Clint Eastwood became a legend years earlier, he struggled to find successful projects in the 1980s. However, 1992’s Unforgiven did a lot to return him to prominence, and for the most part, he’s continued to ride that wave over the last 20-plus years.
This doesn’t mean Eastwood avoided flops in that time frame, though, as he still experienced the occasional dud. Into that category falls 1999’s True Crime, a movie that received mediocre reviews and bombed at the box office. While I suspect I saw Crime theatrically, I maintain no memory of the film, so I figured this Blu-ray offered a good chance to give it a look.
Convicted murderer Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) resides on death row and stands to be executed in a short period of time. After another reporter dies in a car crash, journalist – and recovering alcoholic - Steve Everett (Eastwood) gets the assignment to write a “human interest” story about Beechum’s final hours.
Matters explode when Everett meets Beechum and strongly suspects the inmate didn’t commit the crime for which he stands to die. Everett races against the clock to exonerate Beechum before the execution occurs.
As I viewed the Blu-ray, I realized that I did see True Crime during its initial run – and I also figured out why I forgot I’d done so. While not without any entertainment value, Crime is too long and too predictable to stick in the memory.
Given Eastwood’s talents, I’m surprised he’d create a film with so little subtlety. Crime comes with a clunky script that leaves no trite moments unturned. For instance, rather than dispatch reporter Michelle Ziegler (Mary McCormack) in a logical manner, it throws so many goofy clichés at us that the car crash sequence provokes laughs.
Matters don’t improve from there, as the screenplay veers from one poorly executed moment to another. The film often grinds to a halt to editorialize, and it beats us over the head with poorly developed expositional moments. For example, when we learn of Steve’s past/flaws, it truly feels like the characters read from a script – there’s nothing natural about the way the movie integrates/explains these backstory elements.
It doesn’t help that Crime comes packed with unbelievable, contrived dialogue. The scene in which his editor (James Woods) confronts Steve works overtime to throw “clever” lines at us. These bear no resemblance to any way people really speak, which would be fine in a different kind of movie, but the material flops in the supposedly reality-based Crime.
Adding to the tedium, Crime runs a good 30 minutes too long, largely due to a slew of unnecessary views of Steve’s personal life, but also because of scenes that make no sense in the larger picture. On two occasions, we spend a few minutes with a crude, overbearing homeless man. Why? I have no idea – the scenes lack any usefulness in the long run.
Some problems come from Eastwood’s apparent vanity. I don’t know how old Steve was in the original novel, but I have to guess he was younger, for I find it really tough to swallow the then-69-year-old Eastwood as the easy conqueror of so many younger women. Sure, I can swallow that an icon like Eastwood himself would have this kind of success, but an alcoholic reporter – even one who keeps himself in good shape – won’t have a shot with a hot 23-year-old like Michelle. Sure, she doesn’t sleep with him, but she considers it, and that’s just as implausible.
Eastwood lacks much apparent investment in the lead role, so he does little to deviate from his usual traits. The other actors seem competent - except for Woods, who chews scenery and appears to believe he’s in a 1940s screwball comedy. Woods’ performance doesn’t fit the movie at all and he becomes a distraction.
Though not a huge one because True Crime suffers from so many other flaws. Contrived, cliché, and predictable, the movie wastes a good cast and a decent premise to become a dud.