True Crime

1999, Movie, R, 127 mins


A convicted killer will die at midnight, unless a disgraced reporter racing against both the clock and a gauntlet of personal entanglements can find enough evidence to stop the execution. Now, if that's not a nail-biting, edge of the seat premise, what is? So you have to wonder how director/star Clint Eastwood managed to leach the suspense right out of it. That's not to say this sober thriller is a disaster: It's solid drama that features some very fine performances and a refreshingly unlikable hero in selfish, chain-smoking, barely reformed booze hound and relentless womanizer Steve Everett (Eastwood). But it's damnably slow, ultimately predictable (ambiguous final scene notwithstanding) and undermined by the fact that Eastwood's just too old to play such a hound dog: Not because stringy old geezers don't hit on beautiful younger women, but because beautiful younger women don't generally say yes to broken-down ex-drunks with wives and small children. Everett, whose once-promising career in New York was scuttled by his philandering ways, covers local news for the Oakland Tribune. On the day that Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington) is to be executed for killing a pregnant store clerk, Everett picks up another writer's assignment: a small human-interest piece on the condemned man's last hours. But Everett smells a miscarriage of justice and follows his hunch, coming to believe Beachum's unwavering insistence that he's an innocent man. Eastwood, ironically, is the weak link in the cast, a less-than-ideal choice to play a screw-up who squeaks through life on personal magnetism: He's got star quality, sure, even a certain remote sexiness, but he's no charmer. Washington's beautifully underplayed portrayal of Beachum is heartbreaking, and Denis Leary, James Woods, Anthony Zerbe and a host of others supply smoothly entertaining supporting performances. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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