New on Blu: A Favorable Verdict for TRUE BELIEVER (1989)

Captivating James Woods/RDJ legal thriller is now available on Blu-ray from Mill Creek

Law grad Roger Baron (Robert Downey, Jr.) can’t believe his luck when he is hired on by his professional hero Eddie Dodd (James Woods), a celebrated and brilliant attorney who championed progressive causes in the Civil Rights era.

But it doesn’t take long to realize Dodd isn’t the same passionate legal activist of old. These days he’s just another lawyer content to get by defending criminals and drug pushers, his interest in justice dissipated.

Inspired by his new recruit’s youthful passion and coincidentally drawn into the drama of an eight-year-old murder conviction that the pair believe was mishandled, Dodd again finds his fire for justice rekindled, and throws himself into the reopened defense of his client Shu Kai Kim, eight years deep in a sentence for an alleged gang initiation murder in Chinatown.

As Dodd works the case, he discovers a much deeper conspiracy at work than anything he could’ve expected, and must contend with various obstacles in his path: red herrings, physical attacks on his person, powerful unseen resistance, and the smarmy courtroom opposition of hardass District Attorney Robert Reynard (Kurtwood “Clarence Boddicker” Smith).

Woods is terrific as the ponytailed, chain smoking old dog who throws himself into this case with newfound fervor. Similarly, Kurtwood Smith does his usual terrific antagonism. Downey, sadly, feels a little underused in this setup — Dodd is the main character here but his partnership with Baron as a duo is more engaging, and I wish it was brought to the forefront as these scenes are where the film is the most fun.

The plot is a little reminiscent of The Verdict, which similarly features Paul Newman as a veteran lawyer who has lost most of his zeal and professional credibility but finds his passion ignited again when a medical malpractice case comes his way. But whereas that film is a hard drama, True Believer is a bit more “popcorn” with a fair amount of action and peril, seedy elements, a livelier supporting cast of characters, and even a bit of humor.

Perhaps the oddest angle on True Believer — and in my opinion its primary weakness — is that it doesn’t nail the motivation. Why does Dodd take a special interest in Kim’s case, believing him to be innocent? This conviction is the lynchpin of Dodd’s actions for the entire film (and even informs its title), and he even states later that he felt a bond with his client, but the setup on this is pretty soft — I don’t see it. The introduction of idealistic Roger Baron as Dodd’s clerk is the catalyst for his reinvigoration, sure, but why is this the case they decide to take on?

All in all though, this is a terrific film with solid performances and an intriguing story, and well worth checking out.

The Package

Mill Creek Entertainment recently released True Believer as part of their vintage-stylized packaging lineup. While in some cases these VHS-patterned editions are repackages or prior releases, this actually marks the film’s first domestic Blu-ray release.

I’m a big fan of these VHS style slipcovers, and in the case of True Believer, that’s the only real attraction aside from the film itself. The value-priced disc has no other extras.

In terms of presentation quality, this is the likely the best version of the film out there, but that said it’s average at best. The picture is a little noisy, a little smeary, likely an older master as is common with Mill Creek’s budget-friendly releases.

Special Features and Extras


A/V Out.

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True Believer (Blu-ray):

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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