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After establishing themselves as two of the greatest actors of the 70's, Robert Duvall and Robert DeNiro teamed up to make the compelling and intriguing murder mystery, 1981's True Confessions. If you liked L.A. Confidential, then you are going to love this film.
Robert DeNiro stars as Monsignor Des Spellacy, a rising star in the Catholic Church. While he is not viewed as a good priest, he is considered one of the finest fundraisers in the dioceses. Unfortunately, his ambition has led him to get involved with some seedy characters, including construction company tycoon Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), who continues to get large construction contracts and awards from the dioceses even though he is involved in some questionable dealings. The Monsignor is well on his way to a successful career due to his involvement with Amsterdam and his cohorts, so he looks the other way.
One day, Detective Tommy Spellacy, the Monsignor's brother, is called in to investigate the death of a priest at a local brothel. Detective Spellacy has made many mistakes in his life, including having an affair and serving as the bagman for one of Amsterdam's illegal businesses. He has reformed himself and set his life on the right track, but holds a grudge against Amsterdam because he got Tommy's mistress sent to jail. When he discovers the priest, Spellacy takes the matter to his brother and helps the church avoid embarrassment. However, Tommy soon finds connections between the priest's death and another murder that he is investigating. Trouble soon arises when all leads point to some of the church's biggest benefactors.
Will Tommy pursue the investigation or will Monsignor Spellacy hinder him?
Director Ulu Grosbard's job is made much easier thanks to the presence of such a fine cast. Both DeNiro and Duvall give great performances in the film. When it was screened at the Venice Film Festival, both were awarded Best Actor honors because judges had such a hard time picking between the two. They are a talented pair that know how to play off each other. After watching the film, I think you will agree that they equally deserved such an honor.
DeNiro gives a remarkably restrained performance, which is very appropriate for the role. His character suffers from a guilty conscience because he knows he should not be dealing with such questionable characters. However, his ambition is too strong, and he continues to look the other way, when his biggest benefactors cause harm or stray from the church's teachings.
Duvall steals the show as an explosive detective driven by his need for revenge. Normally, you would expect such a bombastic and passionate character to be played by DeNiro, but Duvall gets an opportunity to show he can do it just as well. His character eventually reaches a point where he doesn't even care if his own brother is implicated in the murder as long as he can bring down Jack Amsterdam. He is blinded by his need for revenge.
The film is loosely based on the true story of Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. In 1947, her severed body was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The case became the talk of L.A., much like the O.J. Simpson case would years later.
Short was known around Hollywood because she would often go to nightclubs, meet men, let them buy her dinner or a hotel room for the evening, but did not engage in any sexual relations. Beth, as friends knew her, was nicknamed "The Black Dahlia" due to her stunning black hair and her tendency to dress in black. The name was given to her based on the 1946 Veronica Lake film, The Blue Dahlia.
In many ways, Beth was still devastated by the death of her fiancée, a World War II-pilot whose plane was shot down during combat. It was also learned that she was physically incapable of having sex due to lack of development of that particular area. Detectives theorized that someone might have become frustrated with her flirtatious ways and refusal to go all the way.
Detectives worked day and night on the case, tracking down thousands of leads. Soon after her death, the Los Angeles Examiner received a package. In newspaper lettering, a note stated, "Here is Dahlia's belongings" and "letter to follow." The package contained Beth's social security card, birth certificate, photographs and her address book. The LAPD felt they had their best lead yet, but the sender cleaned all fingerprints off the items. Later, an informant approached the LAPD with a possible suspect, but he was burned in a fire before the police could apprehend, question and charge him with the murder. The case of the Black Dahlia has never been solved.
Check out True Confessions this week for a stylish and high quality film.
True Confessions: B+
Director: Ulu Grosbard
Writers: John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion
Based on the Novel by: John Gregory Dunne
Robert DeNiro Monsignor Des Spellacy
Robert Duvall .. Tommy Spellacy
Charles Durning ... Jack Amsterdam
Ed Flanders . Dan
Burgess Meredith Seamus
Rose Gregario . Brenda
Pat Corley .. Sonny
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