A sudden realisation is all it takes to kick True Crime and director Clint Eastwood into overdrive. Stern reporting and having all the facts in one place soon push huge realisations onto a man whose carelessness elsewhere is held as rather ironic. How can a man so disorganised personally be tasked with proving the innocence of a man sentenced to death? True Crime does nothing to answer that, but at least it presents the question worth discussing. San Quentin provides a magnificent backdrop to a story of false imprisonment and the futility that so many must feel while on death row. Eastwood does not use True Crime as a chance to talk up the arguments for or against execution, he is too focused on a character-based turn for himself and Isaiah Washington.
Such a focus suits Eastwood and Washington well. Steve Everett (Eastwood) is the usual slick individual. Stuck talking to young women at bars and chasing stories that his paper will rely on, his work as a character actor presents a closer resemblance to the irresistible Dave from Play Misty for Me. Eastwood had his age back then, and such a change is shown. The aged hero has all the values of that first feature film, but in True Crime, the sparks have faded and age has taken over. Eastwood does much within True Crime to present the ideals of ageism and how they must be battered down before they take over the concept that older generations cannot still do good. That is the present response Eastwood has, at least, to many of the issues he wishes to focus on throughout this feature.
Glum and devoid of soulfulness at times, True Crime gives grisly ends to characters who did not need them. There are rough backstories, abandoned childhoods and a general sense that life is a horrendous mess of evil people. If that is Eastwood’s intention, then he presents it well and often enough for it to create a staggering effect on the scenes that play out before us. There is enough distance between the two characters, initially, to not suspect anything untoward or exciting. A slow burner, by all means, True Crime is worth the anticipation, the wait, everything within attempts to set up some larger comparison for later. But just how big does Eastwood want to pump this story up? As it gets larger and larger, the expectations grow with it, and True Crime soon reaches a breaking point that could never be satiated.
That is the gamble Eastwood so often takes. True Crime is an example of where it goes well enough to enjoy, but not well enough to talk about it all that once the credits roll. His take on the press and the few comments he dares make on the issue of capital punishment feel floundering and expressionless. Splinters are coming from within, for Eastwood has pushed himself firmly down on the fence, making no dedicated comment to either side. It is nice to see a director who trusts his audience to pull their own conclusion, but it is one of the greatest oddities of Eastwood. When he is in pole position to make a comment, to really get to grips with an idea or concept that may impact an audience one way or another, he shies from it. True Crime could have been a truly great feature, but the lack of confidence Eastwood has in one argument or the other really lets it down.