Clint Eastwood is having a pretty eventful day in the film “True Crime,” a picture he produces, directs and stars in. He plays Steve Everett, a womanizing journalist who is assigned at the last minute to interview Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) for a human interest story about the man’s last hours before he’s sentenced to death by lethal injection for shooting a young pregnant woman. Everett gets a hunch though that Beechum may be innocent and he’s quickly running out of time to prove his gut feeling. It does not help that his editor (Denis Leary) has discovered that Steve has been sleeping with his wife. It’s also inconvenient that Steve has to honor his promise to take his young daughter to the zoo.
For the simplicity in the storyline of Eastwood’s film, I still found moments that kept me engaged. Washington’s footage which begins at sunrise on his supposed last day at San Quentin penitentiary is very well detailed. I liked how the warden spells out to Beechum what to expect today ranging from requesting his last meal to ensuring direct phone lines to the governor are working properly. I got to witness how all activity of a death row inmate is strictly recorded. I found it interesting how the lethal cocktail is to be administered.
Washington has really good moments with his wife (Lisagay Hamilton) and young daughter wanting to color him one last picture of green pastures. The film doesn’t drown in sappiness or long monologues that you might expect. Like other Eastwood films he looks for the quiet moments in a person’s day; familial, but painful intimate moments of a loving family with all options exhausted.
The other storyline might be debatable for existing. Steve has to contend with his editor’s animosity towards him while also trying to balance what’s left of his family life with his current wife (Diane Venora). Opportunities are given for tough guy comebacks and insults between Eastwood and Leary along with their boss played by James Woods. There’s good timing in these lines but some might question why waste time with this material. I had no objection, however.
These are men who are not putting their lives or instincts on hold to focus just on an inmate sentenced for death. This is just routine work of the day. We don’t stop working just because we find out our spouse is a two timer. We also don’t put our personal interests in hold for a criminal we have regard except to fill a square in the news paper.
Same goes for Steve’s time sparingly spent with his daughter (Francesca Eastwood) at the zoo. Steve turns out not to be an attentive father as he also tries to stay on top of his story on Frank. My cinephile colleagues (including Miguel) took issue with most of the material that the journalist experiences. They thought it was meant for a different film other than the death row storyline. Not I, however. I found it courageous of Eastwood with a script from Larry Gross, Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff to stay true to this portion of the film. All people have demons they live with and those setbacks don’t grant mercy in even the most desperate of times such as when a possibly innocent man has mere hours left to live. Life is never put on hold even if you’re a lousy father and husband.
“True Crime” stayed with me up until its last ten minutes. At that point, Eastwood takes the film in a beat the clock car chase direction. This moment is unlike anything else the film presented and I took issue with it here. I wasn’t watching an action picture before any of this. Before the end arrived, I was caught up with the different perspectives of those involved in the process of supposedly humane lethal injection. I saw the prison guards who’d make a joke out of what’s to come. I saw a self involved minister trying to egg on a confession for his own personal salvation, and I saw a warden (Bernard Hill) who actually possessed sensitivity to a prisoner’s fate; that’s something you don’t see too often in film.
Eastwood never allows the audience to empathize with his character’s personal problems. This guy made his own bed. His personal life is not wrapped up in a pretty pink bow by the film’s conclusion. Instead, “True Crime” told me that beyond a man’s own personal issues is the necessity to help rescue another man who is arguably in a much worse scenario. Dismiss the film’s ending, and you’ll nevertheless appreciate the structure of the rest of the film.