I'm telling you, he's pure living rock. Kick a ball at him, it'll bounce right back at you. He's a walking, talking chunk of granite, all chiseled angles and weathered crevices. Luckily, his DNA has transmogrified into a sort of liquid stone, which allows him to continue essential human movement, including his trademark scowling.
But a living stone can't do much about a movie that sinks like one. "True Crime," which Eastwood produced, directed and stars in, is the geological equivalent of an albatross around the neck. It's another of those Warner Bros. productions that are heavy on star iconography and production values but AWOL on story.
As if to prove the old saw about too many cooks, three scriptwriters and those are just the credited ones load the movie down with emotional button pressing, hollow depictions of Eastwood's character degradation and a deus-ex-mush-ina ending so laughable, it destroys any slim trust you may have built up in the movie.
It's a testament to Eastwood that I could still have fun watching him walk, talk, move and defiantly light up a cigarette in public places. That presence can pull you through just about anything, although someone close to him might have gently dissuaded him from doffing his shirt for one of those lovemaking-aftermath scenes. This is "True Crime," after all, not "Interview With the Vampire."
He plays Steve Everett, the kind of boozing, chain-smoking, jaded reporter that was already old hat when they made "His Girl Friday." A former columnist in Gotham, he was run out of town for putting his reputation behind the wrong story: a miscarriage of justice that was no miscarriage.
Now a metro reporter for the Oakland Tribune, he's still up to his shameless womanizing. His wife (Diane Venora) is on the verge of booting him out, but he has stopped drinking.
In this recovering but still sorry state, he's ordered to file a human interest story about Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington), a black citizen condemned to die at San Quentin for a brutal murder.
Despite six years of court trials, lost appeals and enormous publicity, Everett starts picking up clues about the case that cast serious doubt on the prosecution. (He'd get a job here in five minutes, if he could really do that. I'd probably have to give up my desk.) He gets a hunch that Beachum's claims of innocence may be true.
But the trouble is, Beachum's going to be killed by lethal injection the next morning. The governor ain't budging. The whole world thinks he's guilty. He's got to save this man's life and, of course, save his own.
You know where this thing's going, right? Washington is an extremely appealing, strikingly handsome actor. His character is married to a wonderfully supportive woman (Lisa Gay Hamilton). And his adorable preteen daughter comes for that last visit and draws Daddy a picture of blue skies, birds and green pastures.
Except, she's lost the green crayon the one that would give Daddy vicarious happiness and freedom. She cries, the music swells and I'm thinking about the Warner Bros. executives watching this and misting over in their executive screening room.
"They're going to love that part," whimpers one. "They're going to just die."
After Eastwood, the next most significant player is James Woods. As Alan Mann, Everett's editor-in-chief and confidant, he's a sort of antichrist, West Coast Perry White, who appreciates Everett's work and is somewhat amused by (if not jealous of) Everett's terrible inability to keep his hands off other people's wives.
Chewing Everett out, at one point, for sleeping with an editor's spouse, Mann takes the reporter aside and demands to know the details. ("How was she?") If this sounds horribly scuzzy, you're right. But you're not giving Woods enough credit for his shameless gusto. It's clearly a reflection on the movie that a few moments of dark, politically incorrect looseness between Woods and Eastwood makes the rest of the movie seem even more artificial than ever.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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