True Believer (1989)
March 18, 2015 1:56 PM - Subscribe

Eddie Dodd (James Woods), a cynical former civil liberties attorney now reduced to "specializing" in defending drug dealers, becomes transformed by an eight-year-old murder case. Helped out by idealistic young lawyer Roger Baron (Robert Downey Jr.) he takes on the cause of convicted killer Shu Kai Kim (Yuji Okumoto), loosely based on the real-life case of Chol Soo Lee.

1989 was a good year for the lead, as Ebert points out: "Let us now consider the case of James Woods, a name on that brief list of actors whose presence more or less guarantees that a film will be interesting."

Woods' character was inspired by Lee's defense attorney, Tony Serra, who also defended Huey Newton (and brother of Richard).

Asian-American campaigners who worked for Lee have pointed out that the movie whitewashed their involvement in his case.

Led to a spin-off 1991 TV series, Eddie Dodd, starrring Treat Williams.
posted by Gin and Broadband (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This came to my attention as one of the SNL alumni's highest-rating Tomatometer movies (tying with Lost In Translation, This Is Spinal Tap, and National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation) (never change, Rotten Tomatoes) and comes from that rare and special time in RDJ's career when he looked about 12 and could be seen wearing a tie with sea shells printed on.

It's a blatant White Savior narrative, even without the historical background of Chol Soo Lee's case, and the Asian leads don't get to do much other than be inscrutable or thankful. And for a film eager to talk about civil rights and discrimination it sidesteps any actual examination of structural racism.

What does it do right? Have a snappy, Grisham-style twisty plot with oodles of legal theatrics. Shoot in NYC during the late 80s. Fill up the supporting cast with some great character actors, including Stockard-alike Margaret Collins as an atypical New York private eye, Kurtwood Smith at his most Kurtwood Smith-ish, and Luis Guzmán. Have some excellent Scorcese-style tracking shots (the one into the White Supremacist's house is great). And there's James Woods turning it up to 11, ratty ponytail and spliff included. Definitely a cut above your average Law & Order rerun.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:17 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Podcast: 99% Invisible: 157- D...   |  Mystery Science Theater 3000: ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments