Film: When Harry met cliche

The Big Picture



Clint Eastwood has become a more interesting actor with age - his gnarled features seem to have been hewn from Mount Rushmore itself, and the eyes have a sadness where there was once something cold and implacable. His work in Unforgiven, In the Line of Fire and The Bridges of Madison County has a solidity and grandeur that could almost qualify for a separate classification: Late Clint.

So it's unfortunate that while he is dependable in True Crime, his 21st film as director, he's also miscast. He plays Steve Everett, a crusading newspaperman who once brought down the mayor of New York but then let booze get the better of him. Now he's a philandering veteran on the Oakland Tribune and, though he recently got back on the wagon, we first sight him in a bar, chatting with a cub reporter (Mary McCormack).

"If you're such hot shit", she teases, "what are you doing in bumfuck California?" Language, language, please, you expect Clint to say in a fatherly fashion, but no. He just chuckles, and next thing you know he's trying to put his tongue in her mouth. She's 23! Hey, I wanted to shout, you're Clint - not Clinton.

It's not simply that Eastwood is too old to play the womaniser; looking back on his screen career, he has been many things, but sensual is not one of them. He's too self-contained, too driven, to be truly susceptible to women. Some of the liveliest scenes in this new film concern his cuckolding of an uptight city editor (Denis Leary) - "Stop fucking Bob's wife, he doesn't like it," his boss tells him - but it's still a struggle to square Eastwood's granitic integrity with this randy old goat. (Everett is himself married with a young kid.) We stick with it none the less.

The plot is kicked into life when Everett is handed a routine human interest story on the last hours of Frank Beechum, a convicted killer on Death Row. Now Everett may be a bit of a joke around the office, he may be a lush and a lech, but he's still got an instinct for a story, and something tells him that Beechum (Isaiah Washington) did not kill that pregnant woman in the grocery store six years ago. "If your nose for a story has gone, you're gone too," he says grimly, and once the Tribune editor (James Woods) cuts him some slack Everett is off like a bloodhound to sniff out the truth.

For a while this tale of an old man clawing his way to redemption is pretty enjoyable. Eastwood directs at a steady 30mph, not afraid to take in minor characters and ponder what other film-makers would throw out as too digressive. There's some lovely office banter, for instance, not vital in itself yet enough to make me feel grateful that Eastwood bothered. Everett's scenes with James Woods are easily the best things in the movie. Woods' cynical motormouth ("People wanna read about sex organs and blood") contrasts with Eastwood's battered decency, and one imagines the screenwriters - Larry Gross, Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff - had a lot of fun working up their joshing exchanges. It always does the heart good to see James Woods on a cast list, and his bug-eyed astringency keeps the movie awake in its early stages.

Once the film switches its focus to the condemned man, however, the whiff of piety becomes stifling. We're clearly meant to be moved by the scenes between Beechum and his wife and daughter, but I baulked at the manipulation behind them; one look at Washington's nobly pained features is enough to tell you he's innocent. Unlike Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking, we're never challenged to make a moral judgement of our own about him; all the film wants us to feel his helplessness, and the injustice of "the system". Again, Eastwood at least takes the time to do some character shading: Bernard Hill is nicely ambiguous as the prison warden, while the great Michael McKean (David St Hubbins from This is Spinal Tap) plays a meddlesome chaplain .

Yet what to say of this movie's last half hour? In The Player, Robert Altman devised a blockbuster parody called Habeas Corpus ("Produce the corpse!") whose ending had Bruce Willis arriving in the nick of time to save Julia Roberts from the gas chamber. Eastwood evidently didn't see it. As his reporter pieces together the case for Beechum's innocence I kept thinking: he can't serve up that old race-against-the-clock schtick, can he? Unbelievably, he can - he does. As the theatre of execution is prepared for the midnight show, Everett is still riffling through evidence gathered by his late colleague; and - get this - he finds a notebook in which that colleague has written the words "something fishy here". For crying out loud. I kept pinching myself to make sure I hadn't died and gone to some celestial museum of the movie cliche.

It's a shame. Eastwood is not generally given to sloppy work; his film- making has been an antidote, if anything, to the assembly-line heroics peddled by Hollywood. So why renege on that now? And at some point he's going to have to accept that he's an old man - even Woody Allen has realised he can't play the Lothario any longer. True Crime isn't a disgrace, but it is faintly ridiculous, and that's something Clint Eastwood should never be.

The rest of the week's new films are reviewed on page 10

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before