Given the powerhouse topline casting combo and provocative theme, True Confessions has to be chalked up as something of a disappointment. Adaptation of John Gregory Dunne’s bestseller, which was inspired by LA’s legendary Black Dahlia murder case of the late 1940s, features corrupt cops, whores, pimps, sibling rivalry, pornography and political intrigue within the Roman Catholic Church, but still comes off as relatively mild fare which fails to pack a dramatic or emotional wallop.
For at least the first hour, it’s hard to tell where the drama’s headed. Bookended by years-later scenes in which brothers Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, both white-haired, play out mutual climax to their radically different lives at the former’s pathetic desert parish, main body of pic flip-flops between police detective Duvall handling two bizarre deaths and ambitious Monsignor De Niro negotiating the delicate waters of church diplomacy.
Unfortunately, nowhere near the full weight of these considerations is ever felt in Ulu Grosbard’s muted, unmuscular telling of the sordid, fateful events. Script is deliberately structured to build to a big dramatic pay-off, but this never comes, leaving audience frustrated that careful groundwork has been laid to little avail.
Failings cannot be attributed to the actors, all of whom have clearly immersed themselves in their roles. Duvall is excellent as an unsentimental dick working a tough beat which irrevocably poisons his personal life. Charles Durning’s portrait of a big-time phony is right on target.