True Crime (review)

A Larry Levy Production

It was inevitable, I guess. Somebody finally made Habeus Corpus.

You remember, the film-within-a-film of the Hollywood satire The Player? Habeus Corpus began its life as an honest look at the harsh realities of capital punishment — the innocent white woman accused of murder would be wrongfully executed because “that happens” — with real actors instead of movie stars, and ends up a piece of Hollywood hokum with Bruce Willis rescuing Julia Roberts from the gas chamber at the last possible moment. When she beatifically asks what took him so long, he replies with his snarky grin, “Traffic was a bitch.”
It’s hard to know what’s most offensive about True Crime. The undisguised misogyny? The ridiculous plot? The over-the-top performances from actors who should know better? The lack of a single character who isn’t a stereotype? Or the fact that the same man, Clint Eastwood, who made the subtle and original Unforgiven is also responsible for this claptrap?

Director Eastwood and his screenwriter Larry Gross use the biggest sledgehammer imaginable to point out to us that maybe capital punishment is not such a good idea. On the eve of the execution of Frank Beachum (Out of Sight‘s Isaiah Washington), a reporter who was investigating what she believed to be his wrongful conviction is killed in a car wreck. The next morning, self-admitted “scumbag” Steve Everett (Eastwood) — recovering alcoholic, serial womanizer, and burned-out reporter — is handed the job of writing a human-interest piece on the execution. With mere hours to go, he instead picks up where his colleague left off, determined that Beachum is innocent and hellfire bent on proving it.

As if the conceit of this last-minute investigation isn’t contrived enough, all the little plot points and characters that flesh it out are just as groan-inducing. Not only are we asked to believe that every single person involved in the original trial and six years of appeals was unable to ferret out the information that Everett digs up rather easily over the course of a few hours, we also must contend with:

  • constant harping on the fact that Beachum is accused of killing a young woman and her unborn child — truly a monster “with the eyes of a goat,” according to one witness
  • supercynical editors at Everett’s newspaper who are more interested in discussing which of them have been recently cuckolded by Everett than in a potentially huge story
  • oh the heartless cold-bloodedness of the prison officials: the doctor who pronounces Beachum “healthy as a horse” (see, they’re gonna kill him later, so this is irony); the warden calling his discussion of the execution with Beachum “my little sales talk”; the preening, oily priest who grins to himself before “counseling” (i.e., badgering) poor Beachum
  • evidence that Beachum does not deserve execution not because he maybe isn’t guilty, but because he has an adorable, God-fearing wife and an adorable little girl who draws sweet pictures with her pretty crayons for him; additional evidence comes in the form of his daughter’s little white ankle socks and the pastel cardigans the wife and kid wear — these are good people, fer pete’s sake, who talk about “little baby Jesus”
  • the only mature, grown-up, decent character in the film (an editor played by Denis Leary, and who’da thunk he could be the most restrained actor in a film?) being treated as an object of ridicule; sample putdown: “What are you, like, some fuckin’ feminist?” his boss wonders
  • a completely inappropriate car chase played for laughs intercut with the supposedly dramatic execution scene
  • the idea that the Salvation Army would hire to play Santa Claus a disturbed man living on the streets who shouts to all the women passing by: “Hey, baby, gimme some pussy!”

I could go on and on. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie quite so distasteful, or quite so boring. By the time the credits rolled, I wanted to shoot myself… No, wait, I wanted to shoot Eastwood. I did, in fact, allow myself a good scream of rage once I was outside the theater.

The Player is seven years old. What took so long for this real-life Habeus Corpus to come about? Traffic was a bitch, I guess.

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