Last Thursday I told about my 26-year-old, off-and-on search to see the film True Confessions. From reading various critiques both of the film and the long-awaited April release of its DVD, I wasn’t sure if it was worth such a long wait, but that didn’t stop us from popping it in the player and putting an end to the quarter-century delay Saturday night.
In the aftermath, I see the film as a product of three competing elements here. The first is the way the film wonderously captures the visual essence of Los Angeles in the 1940s. The second is the all-around perfect performances. From top to bottom the cast of actors deliver marvelous portrayals. The third is the actual plotline. While the first two dovetail quite nicely, the telling of the story never falls in line quite right and is what keeps it from being a truly great film.
It may be a cheap and easy shot to take but my theory for its shortcomings is one along the lines of the studio having final say about the film’s cut, primarily because its 1:48 runtime makes it seem like stuff got left on the cutting room floor for the sake of keeping things short.
There’s the subplot shoehorned in and centering around Burgess Meredith’s character that seems like something’s missing because as it stands it could have been excised entirely and comes off as almost inconsequential save for the fact that the desert parish exile Meredith’s character endures foreshadows what ultimately happens to Robert DeNiro’s.
Then there’s the late-inning revelation in the film’s final act to the disbelieving and unaware DeNiro when he’s told that he actually had previously come in contact with the murdered “virgin tramp” (the movie’s version of Black Dahlia victim Elizabeth Short), which just doesn’t fit given his character’s drive for power and attention to detail. With the sensationalized murder putting the poor girl’s picture all over the papers it’s just hard to believe he wouldn’t have recognized her as having been in a vehicle that coincidentally picked her up hitchhiking. It makes far more sense that he would have and then subsequently attempt some sort of damage control to prevent that connection from becoming public and threatening to destroy his ambitions… which it ultimately does.
And frankly for a film that’s about two brothers and the roads they took — Duvall’s into law enforcement and DeNiro’s to the church — I was left wanting to know more about how such disparate decisions came about.
Lastly, with the film bookended by a scene from the future and thus told entirely in flashback and wrapped up with something of a shoulder shrug at the end… all I can do is shoulder shrug at that clichÃ© device as well.
Having not read John Gregory Dunne’s book from which the film is based I should shut up and put the title on my list (done) and read it before blaming any United Artists bigwigs for what may or may not have been included. But whether bad editing decisions are to blame or there were just storytelling depths that went umplumbed in the source material, the brilliant visual and performance aspects of True Confessions still make for very compelling viewing.
As to the DVD itself… very disappointing. There’s not a single feature to be found on the disc. No commentary track. No “making of” short. Not even the theatrical trailer. On top of that the transfer looks like it was made from a faded old print and the soundtrack’s in mono. I don’t have to read any book to know the ball was dropped big time for what was certainly a much-anticipated release.