[box cover]

True Believer

Eddie Dodd (James Woods) used to be one of the most feared civil-rights lawyers in America, a guy back in the '60s who would litigate to the ends of the earth if he thought it would give the police, the D.A.'s office, or anybody else in government a black eye. But by the late '80s Dodd is just another civil defender, spending most of his time getting drug dealers off the hook on petty technicalities ("Coke dealers pay cash," Eddie notes, "which subsidizes the pot cases, which are free.") Enter Roger Baron (Robert Downey Jr.), fresh out of law school and so enamored of Dodd's career that he gets a job clerking for him, only to discover that Dodd pays little more than lip service to the idealism of his radical past. It is when the case of a wrongly imprisoned Korean-American (Yuji Okumoto) falls into their laps that Dodd once again gets the hunger for fighting the good fight — especially if he gets to go up against the ball-busting D.A. Reynard (Kurtwood Smith). Few actors are a joy to watch in anything they do, but James Woods is one of them. Despite the fact that he's starred in more than his share of dreck over the years, he's a commanding presence in a leading role, and in the past decade he's become one of Hollywood's most sought-after supporting players (his cokehead turn in Casino is one of the best things he's ever done). Add Robert Downey Jr. and True Believer has two Academy Award nominees on its marquee. And yet, for all of its pretensions about a wayward spirit returning to his one true calling, Believer soon loses sight of its characters, becoming a Hardy Boys mystery in the second half with a dash of courtroom theatrics for good measure. As a result, the film is not nearly as good as it should have been, even if it isn't all bad, with Woods going through a series of manic tirades while Downey stammers and talks under his breath with his perfect boyish charm. Both actors are appealing, and they play well together. Then again, who looks sillier? Woods, with the froofy perm and paste-on ponytail, or Downey, with his flop-sloppy hair and broad tortoiseshell horn-rims? We'll leave it for future cultural scholars of the American 1980s to decide. Good transfer, audio in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround. Cast notes, trailers for A Few Good Men and Absence of Malice. Keep-case.

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