True Confessions by Vincent Canby

True Confessions by Vincent Canby

25 septembre 1981. Comment résister à ce duo d’acteurs, Duvall / De Niro ? Comment résister à un tel sujet ? Comment ne pas être curieux de découvrir l’adaptation d’un tel roman ? True Confessions a tout pour plaire à notre passant cinéphile. Et c’est sur de lui que ce dernier s’engouffre dans la salle du Sutton Theater.

Critique d’époque :

« No need to pussyfoot. No need to mince words. Get straight to the point, even if it’s not pretty or, for that matter, even if it is. Sometimes things do go right. It does happen. You know it first in the pit of your stomach. A nice feeling but unfamiliar – it’s the bile vanishing as things look up. Like watching True Confessions.

True Confessions, which opens today at the Sutton and other theaters, is the tough, marvelously well-acted screen version of John Gregory Dunne’s novel, adapted by him and Joan Didion and directed by Ulu Grosbard who, with this film, becomes a major American film maker. Quite simply it’s one of the most entertaining, most intelligent and most thoroughly satisfying commercial American films in a very long time.

True Confessions, the film as well as the novel, owes a lot to a kind of 1940’s, tough-guy, fringe-world Southern California fiction in which private eyes drink whisky instead of coffee for breakfast and calmly turn in their sweethearts on murder-one raps because, well, you can’t trust a dame who shoots real bullets. She can kill you as easily as she burns toast.

Mr. Dunne’s best-selling novel, loosely based on an actual Los Angeles murder case, uses history as the author sees fit, and though its syntax is familiar, its concerns are more far-reaching and more psychologically complex than the fiction it recalls. It’s a big novel and True Confessions is a big film.

To begin with, it has America’s two best actors in its leading roles, as brothers, one an up-and-coming monsignor of the Roman Catholic Church, Desmond Spellacy (Robert De Niro), who is on his way toward some of the higher honors the church can bestow, and Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall), Desmond’s older brother, a Los Angeles detective of shabby background. Early in his career, when he was a member of the vice squad, Tom had been on the take. Now he is so embittered he has somehow come full circle. He’s back pursuing justice at all costs, at least justice as he defines it.

The place is Los Angeles and the time is the late 40’s, not long after World War II, before television had become a force in the world and when Hollywood was still turning out a couple of hundred program pictures a year. One morning, in an especially ugly vacant lot, there is discovered the naked, bisected body of a pretty part-time actress, a displaced person from the Middle West who has become what the papers used to call a  »party girl. » It’s a grisly murder, but at first, it doesn’t seem to be an especially important one. Another case. That’s all.

In the way of good fiction, as in life, nothing is quite as simple as it originally seems in  »the case of the virgin tramp, » which is how the paper come to label the murder of Lois Fazenda.

As the single-minded Tom Spellacy roots around in his investigation of the murder, he finds links between the victim and Tom’s sometime mistress Brenda (Rose Gregorio), who runs what is crudely though accurately described as  »a $5 cathouse. » There also are connections between Lois and Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a big-time Los Angeles contractor and pillar of the Catholic Church, a fellow who is one of Msgr. Desmond Spellacy’s softer touches. Jack Amsterdam, former pimp, now receives introductions to the Pope, builds church schools at cost and gets honored as  »the Catholic layman of the year ».

As the investigation continues, the connections become increasingly complicated and dangerous for just about everybody, except, perhaps, the urbane Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack), who has made his archdiocese one the the country’s w e althiest, and Frank Crotty (Kenneth McMillan), Tom Spellacy’s par tner. Crotty is a cheerfully crooked cop who takes small bribes but who would never railroad an innocent man to the gas chamber, as Tom might.

True Confessions has plot to spare, and even if it’s not always possible to follow the ins and outs of the business dealings, the film is abundant with life and character. At the film’s rich center is the relationship between the monsignor and the detective, the priest being far more worldly and self-aware than the policeman, who, somewhere down deep, still believes in the kind of hell-fire that his brother probably abandoned at age 15.

Mr. De Niro and Mr. Duvall are at the peak of their talents here. They work so beautifully together it sometimes seems like a single performance, two sides of the same complex character. But then the film is stuffed with memorable performances. They include those of Mr. Durning and Ed Flanders, as the most prominent laymen in the monsignor’s parish; Burgess Meredith as Seamus Fargo, an ancient, crotchety, seriously committed monsignor who’s being given the expedient sack in the course of the film; Miss Gregorio, who has never before had a film role to equal this one, which she brings to vivid life, and Mr. Cusack and Mr. McMillan.

The screenplay, of course, provides material that actors might die for. It sometimes reaches for its effects, but there’s not a foolish line in it, nor a bland character. The movie is dense with period detail, but Mr. Grosbard makes sure that it never overwhelms a tale that is ironic and sad and very wise. True Confessions comes close to being a model movie of its kind« . Par Vincent Canby pour le New York Times.

Vincent Canby n’y va pas par quatre chemins. Il avait adoré le roman de Dunne. Il a adoré ce True Confessions qu’il taxe de divertissement intelligent. Ce qui n’est pas rien. Et que dire de l’interprétation de ses deux têtes d’affiche ? Wahou !

Je suis sur la même ligne que Vincent Canby. peut-être une histoire de prénom. Qui sait ? En tout cas, mon article est disponible ici.

Et si vous voulez vous faire votre propre avis, direction le site de L’Atelier d’Images ici.

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