Not Just a 9-to-5 Job
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Columbia Pictures, 1989
At the USA Charles
Most lawyers don't lead very exciting lives. They may get to file a couple of briefs one day, maybe interview a client the next. Sometimes they do a little legal research, while other days they interview prospective associates or a paralegal or two.
But not Eddie Dodd. He doesn't issue subpoenas--instead, he chases his witnesses through factories and ware-houses. His idea of legal research is sneaking into the police station at night to look through classified files. He gets beat up one night on the streets of New York, and then the next day wanders unarmed into the headquarters of the Aryan Army to discover who's out to get him.
Dodd is the True Believer in Joseph Ruben's latest film. The movie follows the adventures of lawyer Dodd (James Woods) and his associate Roger Baron (Robert Downey, Jr.) as the investigate the eight-year-old case of a gang-murder in Chinatown. Woods plays a jaded lawyer who was once a great civil-rights attorney, and Downey portrays an idealistic young law-school graduate who has come to New York to work for his idol, Dodd. True, Dodd has done nothing for the past ten years but defend drug dealers, but somehow Baron is unaware of this fact. Yet it doesn't matter, for with his perky attitude and strong moral consciousness Baron has no problem convincing Dodd to give up the drug work and defend the innocent once again.
Dodd and Baron become defense counsel for Shu Kai Kim (Yuji Okumoto), who may or may not have killed a man eight years ago in China town. Baron is sure that Kim is innocent because Kim's mother, who begs him to take the case, is so nice and sweet. "Even Attila the Hun had a mother," cautions Dodd, but soon enough he too is persuaded to take the case.
If all of this sounds plausible to you, you're going to love True Believer. You'll probably even like the end of the movie, when Dodd does his best Perry Mason impression, getting the guilty man up on the stand and (suprise!) forcing him to break down and confess.
Is it unfair to expect realism in a movie? Television shows like L.A. Law and Night Court certainly don't portray the legal field with complete accuracy, so why should one expect any more from True Believer.
True Believer aspires to a loftier goal than the camp of L.A. Law or Night Court. With black-and-white flashbacks and and an overdose of overhead spiraling camera pans, True Believer attempts to be more than the B-level shlock it actually is. You aren't supposed to take the antics of T.V. lawyers Dan Fielding or Arnie Becker seriously. But you aren't supposed to laugh at Dodd.
Woods looks haggard, almost bored in this film; the intensity that he radiated in Salvador and Best Seller is missing here. Downey looks particularly puerile playing against the veteran Woods. Okumoto puts in a fine performance as Kim, but the best performance in the film is by Kurtwood Smith, who plays a toned-down version of his Clarence Botticker character (Robocop) in the role of District Attorney Robert Reynard.
The other hightlight of True Believer is the soundtrack. Film producers have been paying more and more attention to soundtracks recently, and moviegoers have been treated to such delights as Carly Simon's title track from Working Girl, and the intriguing mix of Yaz and Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack of the Chocolate War. True Believer, boasts a good selection of tunes from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Traffic and The Doors.
Rather than seeTrue Believer, in fact you might be better advised to go out and buy the soundtrack album; use the $6 you save by not going to see True Believer, to rent videocassettes of Salvador and Robocop. Who says you can't have it all?