When his colleague is killed in a car crash, worn out journalist Steve Everett inherits her story a human interest piece on a man due to be executed at midnight that night. Everett tries to balance his collapsing personal life with his feeling that the condemned man, Beachum, is innocent. He begins to search for the vital evidence that will prove his feeling correct.
This sounds like you know where it's going a worn out journalist (alcoholic), an innocent man on death row, an investigation etc etc
.but for the majority this manages to avoid all the usual pitfalls. It does this by being very well written, instead of caricatures we have characters. Everett is a mess, and Eastwood lets us see this we're used to seeing rogue cops and journalists sleeping around, drinking etc, but here we see the consequences of this. Likewise we are made to feel for the Beachum family and get a feel for the human stories that exist in the support characters. However, with 30 minutes to go, we have the usual twist and countdown thriller conclusion that spoils it a lot, but not completely.
Eastwood is excellent as a director, but he's even better here as a actor. At times he plays it too light, but for the majority we can see him weighted down by the pressure of his quest but also the self inflicted collapse of his personal life. This is not an ego-driven project. Washington however steals the show with a great performance, you can't help be moved by his dignity Denzel is not the only Washington who is under-rewarded. Lisa Gay Hamilton is also superb and works really well with Washington together they take some scenes that could have been soapy or melodramatic and make them powerful and emotional. Woods is good and has good banter with Eastwood, but a times feels out of place with the mood of the film but he does provide some humour. Leary is great in a non-comedy role, he is the representation of Everett's selfishness. Diane Venora is OK in a small role as Everett's wife (the casting director had clearly seen her similar role in Heat). And we have small roles for McKean and a strange role from Lucy Liu very small considering she had already done a few big movies.
We get some `jobs for the boys' but they don't affect the quality Eastwood has his wife (at time of writing!) Dina Eastwood and his daughter Francesca in side roles.
Overall, it may fall into the usual crime thriller cliché of a big twist, but up till then it is an assured character driven piece that is very enjoyable to watch.