60 user 23 critic

True Confessions (1981)

A worldly ambitious monsignor clashes with his older brother, a cynical Los Angeles homicide detective who is investigating the brutal murder of a young prostitute.


Ulu Grosbard


John Gregory Dunne (novel), John Gregory Dunne (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert De Niro ... Father Des Spellacy (as Robert DeNiro)
Robert Duvall ... Det. Tom Spellacy
Charles Durning ... Jack Amsterdam
Kenneth McMillan ... Frank Crotty
Ed Flanders ... Dan T. Campion
Cyril Cusack ... Cardinal Danaher
Burgess Meredith ... Msgr. Seamus Fargo
Rose Gregorio Rose Gregorio ... Brenda Samuels
Dan Hedaya ... Howard Terkel
Gwen Van Dam ... Mrs. Fazenda
Thomas Hill ... Mr. Fazenda (as Tom Hill)
Jeanette Nolan ... Mrs. Spellacy
Jorge Cervera Jr. Jorge Cervera Jr. ... Eduardo Duarte
Susan Myers Susan Myers ... Bride
Louisa Moritz ... Whore


De Niro (a Catholic Priest) and Duvall (a Homicide Detective) play brothers drawn together after many years apart, in the aftermath of the brutal murder of a young prostitute. Written by Grant Hamilton <n9431210@scholar.nepean.uws.edu.au>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Two brothers out to save everyone else. But they couldn't save each other.


Crime | Drama


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Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

25 September 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Confesiones verdaderas See more »


Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The nickname given to the murder victim is "The Virgin Tramp". See more »


During the autopsy of porn actress Lois Fazenda, her eyes shift from looking up, then down slightly, then more wide-eyed from one shot to another. See more »


Tom Spellacy: How's ma? Is she still eating with her fingers?
Des Spellacy: Well, she says the early Christian martyrs didn't have spoons.
Tom Spellacy: Tell her they didn't have Instant Cream of Wheat, either.
See more »


References Going My Way (1944) See more »


Memories of You
Music by Eubie Blake (uncredited)
Lyrics by Andy Razaf (uncredited)
Performed by Benny Goodman
Courtesy of Capitol Records
See more »

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User Reviews

Quite simply, the finest crime drama ever.
27 January 2001 | by budmasseySee all my reviews

This story is somewhat loosely based on the story of Elizabeth Short, widely known as the Black Dahlia. For decades the mystery of her death plagued the LAPD., and, despite the gruesome dénouement in True Confessions, the killer of the Black Dahlia was never found.

The murder mystery was dramatized in a novel by James Ellroy, perhaps better known for the more successful, though in many ways definitely inferior, L.A. Confidential. In 2005 a somewhat low budget adaptation was made with a present day setting, and most recently a Brian De Palma film, regarding which, a must miss, was released, based on Ellroy's novel and starring Canadian Mia Kirshner in the title role, along with the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Josh Hartnett, and Hillary Swank.

Despite all this attention, imitators will be hard pressed to match the desolate and subdued brilliance of this telling of the popular mystery, owing in no small measure to the immensely talented cast. DeNiro's portrayal of Monsignoir Spellacy, an Irish priest with a decidedly human side, is positively stunning, in the manner of DeNiro's other historic performances of the era. Duvall, as his flawed but well intentioned brother and LAPD detective, renders what may be the finest performance of his long and illustrious career.

Most of the period references will not be appreciated by today's movie viewer, but the zeitgeist is beautifully captured. The reality of the characters is stunning, even though they are necessarily stylized to a large extent. The tone, pace, and style of the movie are sharply reminiscent of The Godfather, although True Confessions relies much less on violence and noise, and more on character and plot.

Central to the story is the uneasy relationship between an ambitious priest and his hard-boiled detective brother. The two clash over scattered entanglements that reach deep into the LAPD, the Catholic church, and the wealthy and elite LA community. When events and evidence surrounding the mutilated corpse of a would-be actress begin to tighten the noose around a small and corrupt group that spans all these borders, the relationship of the brothers becomes increasingly strained.

Institutions of wealth, power and influence are exposed to the increasingly unforgiving glare of reality. The scope of the story is epic, but the treatment is intimate. The combination is breathtaking.

Scattered about the edges of this subtle and majestically paced masterpiece is a complex thought provoking mystery, but be warned. The story that unfolds is not an easy one to watch. Avoiding a trite ending, the film instead seems to fade into an uneasy, but inevitable, twilight, in which defeat, loss and resignation replace the ambitions and illusions of youth.

Despite the grisly and disturbing events of the story, and notwithstanding the epic tragedy of the final act, True Confessions is, ultimately, an uplifting story about redemption through adversity. The final scene has a huge emotional payoff, but only if you have invested in the story from the beginning.

Standouts in the magnificent supporting cast include Charles Durning, as a fading influence peddler, and the incomparable Rose Gregorio as a burned out madam known to, but abandoned by, all. And one cannot fail to mention the amazingly sensitive portrayal by Burgess Meredith of DeNiro's mentor, father confessor, and, in many ways, eventual savior, Father Fargo.

All in all, this is, quite simply, the finest crime drama ever, rich with performances so brilliant, so masterful, that you will be left speechless, even after many viewings, which is, of course, the only way to appreciate so complex and subtle a masterpiece. I recently got the widescreen DVD version, and can once again experience True Confessions as I remember it; delicate, moving, brilliant and thought-provoking, as well as in its proper aspect ratio.

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