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True Crime is Clint Eastwoodís 21st film as a director. Itís also his 41st starring role. So what was it that appealed to him about it, asks NICK RODDICK.

Clint Eastwood has never been anyone's idea of a conventional hero. From his days as The Man With No Name through Dirty Harry and his Academy Award-nominated performance in Unforgiven, Eastwood has embodied the loner, the anti-hero, the flawed but powerful individual whose code of honour has, at its core, its own sense of honour. And audiences have never tired of watching that character in action.

Now, in his 41st starring role and his 21st film as a director, Eastwood explores a new character - and one whose sense of honour is, at first, almost impossible to locate. Newspaperman Steve Everett is an alcoholic, an adulterer, an unreliable husband and father, an irresponsible driver and an all-around reprobate. But he's an outstanding reporter, and his nose for news is legendary.

"I liked the lack of vanity of the character"

"I liked the lack of vanity of the character," says Eastwood. "He knows heís a failure at most activities relating to normal human relationships, and he doesnít try to pretend heís better than he is. But he doesnít let remorse or any other falseness distract from what he is good at, which is finding the truth in a story."

Everett is called upon to interview a Death Row inmate hours before his execution and begins researching the story and asking fresh questions, even though his assignment is a routine one. When the answers don't seem to add up, the veteran newsman takes to the streets, opening old doors - and old wounds - as he challenges every assumption made about the convict's guilt. And when he finally meets Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington), the condemned man, only eight hours before he is scheduled to die by lethal injection, Everett becomes convinced that the subject of his story is innocent.

The reporter races to unravel the long-closed case and save Beachum's life. But, throughout the tense exposition, his character remains what it was when we first met him - that of a wreck, just an arm's reach away from a drink or a woman, temporarily sorry for his transgressions but, in the long run, accepting of himself and all his flaws.

True Crime is adapted from Andrew Klavanís novel by Larry Gross, Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff. Originally, the story was set in St Louis, but Eastwood moved it to a setting he knows better and understands deeply - that of his home town, Oakland, California. "I liked the visual possibilities better with Oakland," explains the actor/director with typical understatement. "I know the area pretty well and I'm comfortable here."

"allowing things to happen on the screen."

As a film-maker and actor, Eastwood has been able to achieve a level of autonomy that few of his peers have reached. His Warner Bros-based production company, Malpaso Productions, develops only projects that Eastwood is interested in, and puts them into production with a minimum of fuss. Eastwood himself is free to choose the films he will direct and those in which he will star - and often does both with equal aplomb. Since his directing debut with Play Misty for Me in 1971, he has frequently set his stories in Northern California and incorporated into them the scenery, the jazz music and the hard-bitten, laconic characters that suit him. And he has done so with unabated success.

"What I try to do is show a lot of real time between people," he said while making The Bridges of Madison County, which earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. "In movies today, whether because of our MTV mentality or whatever, we cut to the action and the chase. I try to be more in the Ford or Hawks tradition of allowing things to happen on the screen."

True Crime began shooting on May 21, 1998, 10 days before the director's 68th birthday. Joining Eastwood as producers were Richard Zanuck and Lili Fini Zanuck, who themselves had won Oscars for their Best Picture of 1990, Driving Miss Daisy. It is their first collaboration with the director, but most of the other behind-the-camera jobs were filled with regular Eastwood collaborators.

"Iíve been fortunate to have attracted a very talented group of collaborators"

"When Iím directing a picture," says Eastwood, "I like to work with my regular crew because itís a much more efficient process. They understand me and I understand them and we can move along more smoothly than if I had to explain everything about my methods of working to a group of strangers. Iíve been fortunate to have attracted a very talented group of collaborators, so itís always a pleasure to work with them."

But what was it that first drew Eastwood to this story. Well, itís unvarnished reality, for a start. "True Crime," he says, "is a suspense thriller based on a wrong that was committed and must be discovered and quickly remedied by an unlikely person. Without those elements, you wouldnít really have a story, so thatís why theyíre in the movie. If it was impossible, it wouldnít have any dramatic value, so there must be some chance that it could happen. Beyond that, I couldnít say."

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