True Crime

Mar 24, 1999 at 12:00 am

Old investigative reporters don’t just fade away, according to Clint Eastwood in True Crime. They bide their time in bars and the beds of their editors’ wives, until that one big break comes along that’ll prove that, no matter what’s lacking in their lives, their "nose" for news can still sniff out the buried truth like a truffle hound’s.

Eastwood both directs and stars in True Crime as Steve Everett, the aforementioned reporter, who gets assigned a "human interest sidebar" on death-row inmate Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) on the day of his execution. No matter what the city editor (Denis Leary) tells him about not pulling a "Dick Tracy," Everett immediately smells that something’s wrong with the case and sets out to prove Beechum’s innocence and save him.

Surprisingly, Eastwood doesn’t turn this race against time into a tightly wound suspense film. In fact, the pacing of most of True Crime is downright leisurely. Using a straightforward, low-key style with barely any music on the soundtrack, Eastwood presents this as just another day when everyone is going about their business, even if that happens to be conducting an execution.

The upside to this approach is that it allows an excellent cast to dig into their roles without histrionics. Isaiah Washington is truly stunning as a man resigned to his fate, and Lisa Gay Hamilton is equally strong as his impassioned wife whose faith can’t diminish her anguish. James Woods, as Everett’s enabling editor-in-chief, once again proves he’s a master of wry line-reading. Every performer, in fact, makes an indelible impression, even though the characters are merely rough sketches.

True Crime is a solid piece of mainstream filmmaking, but there’s a disturbing undercurrent of misogyny present, particularly when it comes to the treatment of women working at the fictionalized Oakland Tribune. This attitude, combined with the creepy sight of 68-year-old Clint Eastwood either fondling or attempting to seduce every woman onscreen – even those one-third his age – leads to questions of what the true crime really is in this case.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].