True Crime

9 out of 10
 

 

Thought Provoking Who-dunnit Drama

Despite Clint Eastwood being leading actor and Director, this is no gun-toting cop story, but a deep and thought-provoking drama that is in many ways in the modern version of James Stewartís "Call Northside 777" of the 1930`s. As an innocent man passes away his last few hours on death row before his execution, a down-at-heel journalist, Stere Everett, played by Clint is his only chance, yet even he must convince himself first of the manís innocence.

The drama is all the more powerful for the contrasts that are made. For instance, most of the action is centred on two starkly different focal points, the drudgery of work-a-day life in the Editorial office where small trivial incidents are constantly occurring and his prison, where the peaceful existence is merely the "quiet before the storm" as everyone awaits the one staggering, literally life-changing event, the public killing of a human being.

This movie, however, is not simply anti-capital punishment propaganda, but a sophisticated and well-directed piece of work that avoids stereotyping. For instance, as has been the hallmark of Clintís films, the good guys arenít too good and the bad not that bad. The journalist is a womanizing drunk who sleeps with the wife of his boss, himself, a kind cynic who just wants to sell more newspapers; the prison guards are not brutal monsters, but very fallible, underpaid workers, who see the prisoner with either ambivalence or marginal sympathy, and finally thereís the Prison Chaplain, a supercilious, interfering idiot. Even the condemned man is an ex-con with a list of convictions for a whole host of violent incidents. Imagery adds edge to the story. Curiously, green is highly symbolic in the story. In the bleakness of her fatherís cell, his daughter draws crude drawings of the green pastures he will never see again, whilst in the next scene, Clint is meeting a shallow and corrupt witness in an expensive restaurant across one wall of which is a magnificent oil painting of the same green pastures. Even appointment of Steve Everett to the story occurs only after the accidental death of his colleague, the irony of a live saved through another lost.

The casting is so good that Clint Eastwood`s performance is lost amongst dazzling Oscar-worthy ones from almost all the supporting cast. Bernard Hill as the Prison Governor and Isiah Washington as the condemned man produce a tour-de-force of drama. Isiah Washington releases raw emotion, as a patient, innocent man, calmly struggling to cope with his imminent death, whilst his erstwhile executioner, the Governor, is not a cruel or weak man, but an intelligent, articulated professional. He has nothing personally against his prisoner, and when his prisonerís daughter burst into tears because sheís lost her green crayon, he promptly sends half his guard force into the car park with all the latest in technology just to find it for her, yet he is not soft and will "do the job" when the state so requires.

Despite seeming to be a one-issue film, it holds a further depth in bringing in other issues. For example, just how far does a journalist go, and what about the effects on his family? In particular, at one point, he goes to question a witness in the slums. She observes how much effort is going into finding the truth to save one manís life and asks poignantly, "When my grandson was murdered in the park, where were you? Why werenít you down here then trying to find out the truth about his death?"

Overpowering, Thought-Provoking Drama

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett