Lowdown: A reporter unable to take care of himself on a crusade to save a death row prisoner.
I can only say that many times that Clint Eastwood is probably my favorite moviemaker. Given that, and given I am currently reading a book about Eastwood’s films, I did not pass the opportunity to record True Crime on my PVR and even watch this 1999 release at my own convenience, skipping through the ads.
This time around actor/director Eastwood plays a journalist with a special talent for doing the wrong thing. He sleeps with his editor’s wife and everyone knows about it; obviously, he’s cheating on his wife; and he fails on his promises to take care of his young daughter. He does have one positive redeeming talent, and that’s his skill as a journalist: when he’s given the task to follow up on a fellow reporter’s work and write a sentimental piece about a death row inmate about to be lethally injected that night, he immediately starts asking the right questions.
At the same time we get ourselves acquainted with the death row criminal. Immediately we notice he doesn’t feel like a killer; it’s pretty obvious his guards share the notion. We meet his wife and daughter, we fall for them all, and – just like Eastwood’s character – we can smell something wrong. Hence starts the almost real time race to acquire evidence proving the inmate’s innocence before the clock turns midnight, a race of a type we’ve seen in plenty of other films. The difference here is that Eastwood is doing the racing while encumbered by all sorts of rather mundane affairs when compared to what’s at stake – a guy’s life. The race is not only tense: through superb acting by the likes of James Woods as the newspaper’s chief editor, True Crime works as an effective comedy just the same.
True Crime is your typical Eastwood film. It’s simple, unassuming and was probably shot for peanuts but it’s incredibly effective, perhaps as a direct result of its simplicity. The film is so simple it easily passes underneath everyone’s radar, yet when you think about it Eastwood’s ability to come up with such quality deliveries time and time again is incredible. Indeed, True Crime follows the Eastwood template to the letter: the compromised hero comes along to save the day and attain salvation yet remains compromised and real life like throughout. You can easily see some of Eastwood’s more recognized work, like Million Dollar Baby, staring back at you through True Crime: While the latter delivered a liberal pro euthanasia message, the former delivers a liberal anti capital punishment message. Both share the same technique for delivering the message, though.
Personally, I liked the non politically correct attitude displayed by Eastwood. When he interviews the inmate in their first face to face he stops the prisoner from telling him about his Jesus finding. Eastwood doesn't give a damn about Jesus, or so he says as he asks the prisoner whether he committed the crime he's to be killed for or not. Now, let’s be frank – how many times did we have an American movie’s hero, and a household name like Eastwood for that matter, express themselves about Jesus in such a way?
In a hurry to pursue his journalistic quest, but still under obligation to take his daughter to the zoo, Eastwood takes her for a special “quick zoo” tour where he puts her on a trolley and runs through the zoo. Things don’t end well, but as a parent who is always in a conflict between his personal pursuits and satisfying his son’s whims, I can certainly see where Eastwood’s character is coming from.
Interestingly enough, while watching True Crime I regarded Eastwood’s daughter to be the film’s weakest link. As in, how can a man in his sixties (Eastwood was born in 1930) father such a young daughter? Then I read the daughter character is played by Eastwood’s real life daughter. I shut up and sat in the corner.
Overall: A crafty piece of moviemaking that deserves much more acknowledgement than it got. 4.5 out of 5 stars.