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With: Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, James Woods, Denis Leary, Lucy Liu
Written by: Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, Stephen Schiff, based on a novel by Andrew Klavan
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 127
Date: 03/19/1999

True Crime (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Paper Trail

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Clint Eastwood, one of our greatest directors and actors, returns with True Crime, another in a string of recent triumphs. Eastwood plays Steve Everett, a reporter for the Oakland Tribune who gets assigned to a last-minute interview with Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington), a death row inmate convicted of killing a pregnant girl in a grocery store. Everett has a hunch that Beechum may be innocent and begins nosing around.

Unfortunately, Everett doesn't have the cleanest record on the paper. We know that, for some reason, he was kicked off a paper in New York. He used to be a drunk, and led a failed crusade trying to release a convicted rapist (named Mike Vargas, the lead character from Touch of Evil, strangely...). He sleeps with everyone's wife, including his editor's (Denis Leary). Editor-in-Chief Mann (James Woods) is the only one who understands him, but even he will only give Everett so much rope. Everett's own wife and daughter are hanging on by a thread. In one sequence, he takes his daughter to the zoo and plays "speed zoo" with her, so that he can get to an appointment on time. Everett finds some bits of evidence overlooked in the preliminary investigations and races the clock to save the condemned man.

This is a pretty standard plot, and it's even spoofed in Robert Altman's The Player (1992), in the movie-within-a-movie where Bruce Willis crashes to the rescue of death-row inmate Julia Roberts. But Eastwood handles it professionally, intelligently, and beautifully. The pace is slow, but perfect. He and his longtime editor Joel Cox (who won an Oscar for Unforgiven) keep the tension building slowly, and give us time to get to know everyone involved. We get many stretches of time with Beechum, and his wife and daughter, so that we have a stake in whether he lives or dies.

True Crime is based on the novel by Andrew Klavan, and adapted for the screen by Larry Gross (48 Hours, Chinese Box), Paul Brickman (Risky Business), and Stephen Schiff (the Lolita remake). I'm already calling for Oscar nominations for Eastwood, Woods, Washington, and editor Cox. This is a terrific movie.

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