Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1981
Directed by
Ulu Grosbard
108 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

True Confessions

The title of Ulu Grossbard’s neo-noir film, scripted by wife and husband team Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and based on the latter’s novel, is a clever play on the religious sense of confession and the pulp magazine of that name that was so popular for its  sensationalist “true” stories between the 1920s and ’50 s (Dunne's novel was loosely based on the real life "Black Dahlia" murder case of 1947).

The story, which is set just after WWII, concerns two brothers, one a Monsignor, Des Spellacy (Robert De Niro) who is part of the upper echelon of the Catholic Church in L.A., the other, Tommy (Robert Duvall) is a rough-and-ready detective in the L.A.P.D. Tommy is investigating the brutal murder of a prostitute and the trail leads to Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a construction tycoon with a shady past who has white-washed his career with substantial gifts to the L.A.archdiocese.

Very much in the neo-noir tradition exemplified by Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) Grosbard's film takes us through both the upper reaches and the sewers of L.A. with corruption, murder, sex and suicide enough to keep any fan of the genre happy. Although there is an excess of men in hats and vintage vehicles, overall the production design is of impressively high quality with a fundamental contrast between the manicured gardens of the fine manse where Des lives and the grubby purlieus that Tommy inhabits well articulated. Indeed rather than the whodunit aspects of the story the main concern of the film is the relationship between the brothers.

Both have been profoundly affected by their upbringing by a staunchly Catholic  mother but Des has become a smooth-operating power-broking priest who has let expediency overtake his religious vocation. Tommy, whilst having no time for his brother’s compromised existence, in many ways is the more moral and vocationally dedicated of the two.

Although one would think that the casting of the brothers should have been reversed, De Niro and Duvall are convincing in their parts. Less persuasive is De Niro’s aging make-up which features in the book-ending prologue and epilogue. Veterans Cyril Cusack and Burgess Meredith contribute relatively brief but effective performances.

Even if at times it feels as if an inordinate amount time is spent with the brothers and in the confessional relative to the grisly crime story True Confessions is a undeservedly overlooked film that warrants re-visiting.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst