True Crime

True Crime (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, James Woods, Isiah Washington
Extras: 2 Documentaries, Music Video, Theatrical Trailer

Looking over Clint Eastwood’s long-standing career, I cannot help but be impressed every time I see more of his work. Eastwood is almost like malt whiskey. He gets better with age. Not only as an actor, but also as a director. "True Crime" is Eastwood’s 21st film as a director and his 41st as an actor, and just when you thought you had seen all the facets of him, he is adding a new one. With that in mind I am always eager to watch and review Eastwood’s films and when Warner Home Video released his latest work "True Crime", I knew I just had to give it a look.

When you are writing for a newspaper, much of your day is becoming a relentless routine and oftentimes the news you’re mangling lose meaning in the day-to-day trot. Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) has been caught in this treadmill and hardly anything exciting happens in his life these days. Apart from chasing women and having their aggravated husbands chase him, Everett has just successfully renounced alcohol a short time ago and the only light in his life is his little daughter.
Then Everett is assigned a routine story to cover the last hours of an inmate on Death Row, Frank Beachum. Beachum has been accused to shoot a store clerk and her unborn child and has been sentenced to death, now awaiting his execution while saying goodbye to his wife and daughter. When Everett starts researching the case on the surface he immediately feels that something about this case isn’t right. He realizes Beachum is innocent, just as he had always claimed to be, but no one believes him. His editor-in-chief (James Woods) doesn’t take him seriously and his editor is not willing to help Everett after finding out he had an affair with his wife. Amidst the mess of his life Everett attempts to find vital clues that could help keep the innocent man alive, but he has only a few hours left.

Many very good things culminate in "True Crimes" and it is an exemplary film that allows you to study sophisticated filmmaking, remote from the fast-paced, glitzy and shallow films we have seen all to often in recent times. Stylishly Eastwood creates a story that ties two men together without them even knowing it. Running two story threads alongside each other, he takes us into the worlds of the convict and the writer, brilliantly creating a dramatic story that keeps building by the minute. Eastwood also knows how to pace his films, and in "True Crime" you will notice that some scenes develop rather slowly to allow the viewer to think about what’s going on, and to get emotionally attached to the people we see, while others move at a more frantic pace.

From a moral standpoint, Eastwood shows us how Everett’s perspective changes and how things he took for granted take on new values as he is forced to see the innocent man approaching his execution, practically devoid of hope to be saved. The film ultimately asks the question, who is committing the true crime in this case? Is it Beachum, the supposed murderer, our legal system, a racist jury who’d rather see a black man dead than seek the truth, Everett because he peripherally witnessed the case for months without doing anything about the injustice, or could it be all of us, idly watching things happen way too many times?

And finally the acting is what adds the icing to this dazzling film. We all knew Eastwood is a great actor and the seaming ease with which he plays Everett is remarkable. It is his restrained play that makes Everett even more dramatic and gives him the notch of intelligent wittiness the character required. The biggest highlight to me was Isiah Washington’s performance as Frank Beachum however. Very much in control at first, the moment when he is separated from his daughter for the last time is one of the most emotional performances I have scene in a long while. When the mask he put up for his little daughter eventually falls after she left the room, you get to see a man who is emotionally shattered within split-seconds in scene that will stick in your mind for quite some time. The snotty part of Everett’s editor-in-chief is clearly tailor made for James Woods. The delivery of his lines is too good to be missed and when he is literally spitting peanuts from his Snickers bar at Eastwood while full-mouthedly mocking his ambitions, he is on clearly top of his form and enjoying the situation.

Warner Home Video released "True Crime" on DVD now in its original theatrical <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The transfer is meticulously clean and brings out the best of the film’s beautiful photography. Using very natural looking lighting set-ups for most of the film, faithful color reproduction is extremely important for a film like this one, in order to maintain its overall real-life look and feel. Fortunately the disc does not exhibit any problems and exhibits some very natural fleshtones, warm colors and good contrast. Shadow definition is also very good, giving the image a good sense of depth.

The disc’s <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack is well balanced and makes good use of the surrounds, although not very aggressively. The soundstage is wide and rich, mingled with many ambient sound effects that add realism to the scenery. Complemented by a score by Lennie Niehaus, the music in the film nicely enriches the images. Sometimes building the tension, sometimes more delicate and playful, the music always hits the right note. Judging from the blend of jazz tracks within the soundtrack it seems as if Eastwoods has had quite some input in that part of the film as well.

"True Crime" contains two documentaries, one of them taking you behind-the-scenes of the film with cast and crew interviews. The second one is a visual essay about some real life occurrences that built the foundation to "True Crimes", when a writer for the New York Times was once able to save a convict from certain death. A music video, production notes and the film’s trailer can also be found in this package from Warner.

I was looking forward to "True Crime" and I have not been disappointed. Clint Eastwood proves once again that he knows how to tell a story, and how to tell it interestingly. With dimensional characters, skillful dramatic arches and top notch actors he excels in every one of his films while getting more sophisticated with every attempt. This disc from Warner Home Video is a great addition to every DVD collection and should not be overlooked.