Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#180. True Confessions (1981)

DVD Synopsis: Detective Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall) and Catholic Monsignor Desmond Spellacy (Robert De Niro) find their worlds colliding amidst a flurry of political finger-pointing and public outcries over a scandalous, headline-making murder. As Tom hunts down the elusive killer, his investigation threatens to expose secrets that could ruin his brother...and rock the foundation of his beloved church!

At the very heart of 1981's True Confessions lies two excellent performances: Robert DeNiro plays Father Desmond Spellacy, a Catholic Monsignor, and Robert Duvall is his brother Tom, a homicide detective. The year is 1947, the setting is Los Angeles, and though both brothers hold prominent positions in society, each has their shortcomings. Years earlier, Tom got into some trouble with his superiors when they learned he was also working as a “bag man”, carrying pay-offs to the vice squad for local crime boss Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning). Now, Tom learns that his brother Desmond is also doing business with Amsterdam, making back-room deals that, though not entirely honest, will save the archdiocese millions of dollars. Tom gently warns his brother not to fall under Amsterdam's “protection”, but things are brought to a head when a young girl is found brutally murdered, and all the evidence points to the fact that Amsterdam had something to do with the killing. 

Both DeNiro and Duvall are pitch-perfect in their roles; though brothers, the relationship that exists between their two characters is strained at best. From time to time, each one attempts to remedy the situation, hoping to bridge the gap that exists between them, yet neither one has any idea how to go about doing so.  Both Duvall and DeNiro are effective on their own, but it's the scenes when they're together that really bring True Confessions to life. Hell, the two even manage to stir up a little excitement when in the confessional (having grown up Catholic, I've spent my share of time in those cramped booths, and never once did I experience anything close to the high drama found in this film). 

True Confessions flashes a few hints of film noir throughout it's 108 minutes (a story involving corruption and murder in 1940's Los Angeles pretty much guarantees that some traces of the genre will scratch their way to the surface), but the film is, first and foremost, the story of two brothers, each very different from the other in their basic outlook on life, yet who share a bond that keeps them together in the most trying of times. 

And who better to play these brothers than two of the best actors of their, or indeed any, generation?

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anthonyleecollins said...

An underrated film, I always thought. Based on a good book, too (I read the book first, and was not disappointed in the movie). I agree about the two leads, who are great, but the supporting case is excellent, too. I haven't seen the film in years, but still remember Kenneth McMillan as Duvall's partner ("you ever look at the brassiere ads?") and the great Burgess Meredith as another priest ("you show me a priest whose eyes twinkle and I'll show you a moron"). Also the actress who played the madam (I forget her name).

Dave Becker said...

@Anthony: You're absolutely right: the supporting cast is also superb. Kenneth McMillan appeared in a slew of 80's movies, and was always good (I particularly remember his turns as the racist fireman in RAGTIME and the safecracker in THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE).

Along with the performers you mentioned above, I'd also throw in Charles Durning, who does a fine job as the corrupt businessman.

Thanks for the comment!