Reviewed by Cherie Jung
Starring: Clint Eastwood, James Woods, Isaiah Washington, Diane Venora, Bernard Hill, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, Michael Jeter.
Directed by: Clint Eastwod
Screenplay by: Andrew Klavan, Stephen Schiff
Based on the novel by Andrew Klavan
I don't know what Clint Eastwood was thinking when he decided to produce, direct, and star in this movie about a black man scheduled to die on death row who still insists he's not guilty of the crime he was convicted of commiting. (No, Eastwood isn't attempting to play a black man...)
Eastwood's character, Steve Everett, is a troubled investigative reporter. Apparently he's been fired from all the good jobs (New York Times) and is floundering at the Oakland Tribune in Oakland, California. He's a recovering alcoholic --sober for two months now -- and is either sleeping with or has slept with the wives of all of his bosses. His own marriage is suffering, but he claims to love his wife and daughter, it's just that he can't seem to keep his pants zipped up.
Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood as a lecherous geriatric anything, let alone investigative reporter, is simply not believable as portrayed in this movie. And frankly, I lost sympathy quite early on with his "problems." What about the problems some poor guy in prison, on death row, is having? He's scheduled to be executed at midnight -- about 12 hours from the time Everett is assigned to conduct the final interview with Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington) about how it feels to be almost dead...
When the movie opens, Everett is trying to hustle a twenty-something colleague. His problems seem to dominate the entire movie. Meanwhile, Frank Beachum is awaiting execution at San Quentin for a murder he claims he didn't commit. The witnesses, the prosecution, and the victim's friends all believe he is guilty. The prison warden isn't sure. Everett chats with Beachum and his wife and is immediately convinced of the man's innocence. Now to prove it. The clock is ticking.
What could have been a taut, irresistable foray into the life and death struggle of an innocent, or possibly innocent man, waiting on death row as his life ticks away minute after minute, while the clock on the prison wall approaches the hour of midnight, instead becomes mired in Everett's personal life and "problems."
Now I feel compelled to find a copy of the book. I know the author, Klavan, has a reputation for being an exciting writer. I can't believe the book is written as badly as the movie turned out. The only truly inspired portion of the movie, for me, came when Eastwood's character tried to cut corners on his fatherly obligations, and took his young daughter for a romp in what Everett called, "speed zoo." But even at matinee prices, it is hardly worth seeing the movie, just to watch the "speed zoo" sequence.
Still, the movie might have had more impact, if the ending hadn't been so contrived. An audience will only swallow so many coincidences, before they begin to see the flaws in the storyline. Not all stories can or should have happy endings. The "true crime" in this movie is that no one had the guts to make a tough, hard-hitting movie about the last minutes of a death row inmate's life, or the headlong rush to save it.
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