True Crime

on March 19, 1999 by Wade Major
   Like most of Clint Eastwood's movies of late, "True Crime" is a lackadaisical potpourri of both good and bad. Amazingly, in an ironic reflection of the film's plot, Clint and his team just barely manage to avert disaster, hitting the mark often enough to make the misses bearable.
   Adapted from Andrew Klavan's novel and copiously re-written by a trio of A-list writers (Larry Gross, Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff), "True Crime" centers on the eventful last day of Frank Beacham (Isaiah Washington), a convicted death row murderer set for execution at midnight unless a crusty, down-and-out investigative reporter named Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) can validate his hunch that Beacham was wrongly convicted.
   In the hands of any other director, this type of "race against the clock" would pulsate with tension from beginning to end, ramping exponentially during the closing minutes. But Clint is a jazz man, and jazz people never rush. They saunter, mosey and amble. They do things at their own pace--slow. And when they're good and ready, they'll wrap it up.
   Ordinarily, such an approach would be a sure recipe for disaster, as proven by the misfires of "Absolute Power" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". Thanks to a handful of memorable scenes and performances, however, "True Crime" survives itself.
   The film's soul is the relationship between Beacham, his wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and his young daughter (Penny Bae Bridges), all three of whom give heart-rending, virtually flawless performances. Making the most of an otherwise small role as Everett's neglected wife, Diane Venora turns in what could well be the best work of her career. James Woods, meanwhile, is at his crowd-pleasing, hyperkinetic best as Everett's long-suffering editor-in-chief. In fact, it's one of the strongest casts of any recent Eastwood film.
   The remainder of the Malpaso team--composer Lennie Niehaus, editor Joel Cox, production designer Henry Bumstead and cinematographer Jack N. Greene--add their usual professional touches.    Starring Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Diane Venora and Denis Leary. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood. Written by Larry Gross and Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff. A Warner release. Drama. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 126 min.
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