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TRUE WEST (TV) (director: Allan A. Goldstein; screenwriter: Sam Shepard; cinematographers: John Feher/Les Leinowitz/Michael Lieberman; editor: Harvey Kopel; cast: John Malkovich (Lee), Sam Schacht (Saul Kimmel), Gary Sinise (Austin), Margaret Thomson (Mom); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Howard K. Grossman/John H. Williams; PBS; 1984)
“Stagebound drama doesn’t work as a film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This family drama about a sibling rivalry aired on American public television. It’s a filmed presentation of the Steppenwolf Theater Company. Sam Shepard delivers the wordy script, while Allan A. Goldstein directs without any particular inspiration. It’s uninteresting as cinema (shot almost entirely in a four-wall set, with hardly any camera movement); this stagebound drama doesn’t work as a film. What gives it some oomph, is the electric performance by John Malkovich as a sly, hateful, manipulative hustler in contrast to Gary Sinise as a harried earnest guppy-like writer trying to make it in a world of sharks.

After a five year lapse, aimless drifter Lee (John Malkovich) visits his Ivy Leaguer serious screenwriter brother Austin (Gary Sinise) in their mom’s Los Angeles house. Mom is in Alaska on vacation. Austin cringes from his criminal (burglarizes houses) brother, but he won’t leave. Hollywood producer Saul Kimmel comes over to talk about Austin’s script, but Lee barges in and gets the sleazy producer to read his garbage true story about the modern west. The producer decides to go with Lee’s inane story instead of Austin’s more arty one, which sets him off in a snit and reevaluating his straight dull life.

Part funny and part darkly sinister, a mixture that runs its course before turning soporific due to the forced dialogue and a nagging doubt that there’s hardly anything worthwhile uncovering.

REVIEWED ON 11/11/2005 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”