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USA 1991
Directed by
Herbert Ross
112 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

True Colors

Despite its bland production values, glossy cinematography by Dante Spinotti and its sax-heavy ‘easy listening’ jazz score by Trevor Jones, all of which lock Herbert Ross’s film into a 1980s aesthetic, True Colors benefits from a good premise and engaging performances by its two leads, John Cusack and James Spader

No time is wasted in introducing us to two privileged young men. Peter Burton (Cusack) and Tim Garrity (Spader) who are both commencing their law degrees at the University of Virginia Law School in 1983. It’s not a promising opening as it looks contrived and, frankly, one asks oneself, who wants to watch a movie about a couple of wannabe yuppies. But then there’s a twist and it’s revealed that Peter is actually from the wrong side of the tracks (though there’s no explanation of how he got into law school or could afford a vintage convertible). Boy scout Tim and his blue-blood girlfriend Diana (Imogen Stubbs) who is the daughter of a powerful senator (Richard Widmark, in his final screen appearance) forgive his deception but it turns out that Peter’s deceitfulness is deeply ingrained.

The film is a neatly-turned morality play about the pathology of naked ambition that is set in the wake of the Reagan years (Cusack looks uncannily like Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, 1987) that if a little too neat in a 1930s/1940s Hollywood way at least has the good sense to have Cusack and Spader play against type introducing, particularly in Peter’s case (and the film is essentially his story) a certain disorienting ambivalence to his behaviour.

True Colors was mercilessly panned on release and bombed at the box office. Certainly the last act in which the seeds of Peter’s undoing are sown is too easy and the ending a bit of a fizzer (the film would have had more punch had it forgone its idealism and let Peter get away with his scheming) but even if it requires some willing indulgence, the ideas of nature versus nurture and moral relativism that it explores are well drawn by writer Kevin Wade and veteran director Herbert Ross and if the film is far from outstanding, from this distance at least, the bollicking seems undeserved. 

FYI: For those interested in such things True Colors is a kind of re-working of the 1988 hit Working GIrl but gender-reversed and without the feel-good aspect. That film was also written by Kevin Wade and was co-executive produced by Laurence Mark who was a co-producer of this film.




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