Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Film Review: TRUE CRIME (1999, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 127 minutes.
Tag-line: "Clint Eastwood."
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington (DEAD PRESIDENTS, OUT OF SIGHT), James Woods, Denis Leary, Michael McKean (CLUE, THIS IS SPINAL TAP), Erik King (DEXTER, STREET SMART), Bernard Hill (THE TWO TOWERS, DROWNING BY NUMBERS), Lisa Gay Hamilton (THE PRACTICE, JACKIE BROWN), Lucy Liu (KILL BILL, PAYBACK), Michael Jeter (TALES OF THE CITY, JURASSIC PARK 3), Diane Venora (HEAT, A.D., THE COTTON CLUB), Sydney Poitier (DEATH PROOF), Marissa Ribisi (ENCINO WOMAN), Anthony Zerbe (COOL HAND LUKE, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK).
Best one-liner: "I'll have a Virgin Mary... heavy on the Virgin."

TRUE CRIME kind of gets a bum rap. It didn't have the no-holds-barred pseudo-Fascist gunplay of DIRTY HARRY, the Oscar-bait pull of UNFORGIVEN, or the reflective artistic brilliance of WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART. It opened to mixed reviews and geriatric cheap shots, and was something of a bomb, too, earning back only $16 million of its $55 million budget. But I say: so what? I think we can all agree that this is no UNFORGIVEN. But I'm more than willing to settle for a well-acted mystery drama with all-around solid craftsmanship and Clint's 'Zen' touch. So here's ten reasons why TRUE CRIME is better than the conventional critical narrative would have you believe:

#1. James Woods. The consummate skeeze.

Every moment he's on screen, the proceedings feel like a lesser Mamet play. I only include the descriptor 'lesser' because the script was not, in fact, penned by Mamet. Utterances such as "Look, if he comes to me for your ass, I'm going to have to give it to him. Then you'll just be a hole, with no ass around it!" or "Stop fucking Bob's wife. He doesn't like it," may not be Pulitzer-worthy barbs, but, by God, they get the job done. Naturally, Woods brings it his all.

He even gets a 'SAY WHUTTT,' frozen-in-mid-candy-bar-bite moment that will, in all likelihood, blow your mind.

#2. Odd Lynchian touches. Now I've made the unlikely comparison between Eastwood and Lynch in a previous review, and I'm prepared to stand behind it. Here, examples include this mysterious, gradual tracking shot into the shattered, gaping maw of a broken windshield,

and later on, some slow-motion pounding and screaming on a glass barrier that borders on the abstract.

#3. Michael McKean in a serious role, as the prison's resident death row clergyman. It's not necessarily one of his most memorable performances, but it's a nice bit.

#4. Womanizing, philandering, "She looked eighteen to me," 68-year-old Clint.

'Nobody needs to see that,' some might complain. And maybe they're right. Maybe he was just coasting on that BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY high, and thought he'd drum up extra female viewers who wanted to see some Clint-cake (?!) on display.


He even tries to work his magic on shop clerk Lucy Liu:

Anyway, this sort of behavior leads to–

#5. This particular tortured look on Clint's face as his pissed-off, long-suffering wife slams the door in his face.

#6. Clint cleaning the pocket-sized J&B bottles out of his back seat before taking his daughter to the zoo.

And speaking of the Zoo:

#7. The Zoo Trip. Now the trip to the Zoo begins with Clint zestfully inquiring to his daughter "ARE YOU READY FOR THE BIG HIPPO?!," which is, without a doubt, the most macabre remark I've ever heard pass through Clint's lips. Regardless, they arrive at the Zoo, whereupon Clint realizes that the clock is ticking, and he must return to his time-sensitive investigation forthwith. Before you can say "Okay, Lets play speed zoo!," Clint is flying his kid down the thoroughfare in a cart traveling faster than a speeding bullet. But then–



And the horrified onlookers take judgmental note of Clint's subpar parenting skills-

– as Clint tries to salvage his dignity and his daughter's sullied jean-jacket. It's an incredible scene.

#8. Michael Jeter. He plays a sleazebag almost as often as James Woods, and with comparably potent results. Also: I've rarely seen him without a bowtie.

#9. The tremendous pathos of Isaiah Washington and Lisa Gay Hamilton. As the convicted killer (whose guilt Clint wishes to determine) and his wife, respectively, Washington and Hamilton's performances are the fulcrum on which this film pivots.

If you don't care about them, then, ostensibly, you don't care about the movie. Luckily for the movie, they pull it off.

#10. The critical exchange between Clint and Isaiah Washington, during which Clint becomes determined to go on his balls-to-the-wall truth-finding mission. Washington's character has less than twelve hours to an appointment with lethal injection. Eastwood's a larger-than-life, grizzled old hardass. Of course the scene is gonna be good. And Clint gets things off to a great start–

"Mister Beachum... Frankly I don't give a rat's ass about Jesus Christ and I don't care about justice in this world, or the next..."

It's a damned solid scene and a shining example of first-rate Clint, who- as GRAN TORINO continued to prove– refuses to embrace decrepitude and its byproducts. TRUE CRIME is not top-tier Eastwood, but it's a well-made film with some outstanding moments, and it proudly deserves to occupy a slot in Clint's oeuvre. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Ah, you forgot to mention Denis Leary's turn in the film as well which only adds to the fun.

I quite like this film. It's been awhile since I've seen it but I remember liking it just fine and just to see pretty stellar cast like this go through the paces is good enough for me.

And good call on the scenes with James Woods. Man, I could watch him read the phone book and he'd make it riveting stuff.

Sean Gill said...

Ah, yes- Leary is solid as well (I didn't realize until I'd already returned the disc that I forgot to get a screengrab of him!).

And Woods is always skeezy gold- (except apparently when he's shitting his pants in fear of skeezy Sean Young?).

Tempest said...

One thing that bothered me about this film is they made a huge change to one of the characters. It had to do with the twist at the end of the novel, so it put me off to the film. I recall critics being really nasty about how Clint was aging when this came out. I recall reading something like,"His face looks like a destroyed suitcase," to my mom and she said someone was being really mean.