It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
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 works a lot. In the last year he has made "Cop," about a dangerously out-of-control homicide detective; "The Boost," about a salesman who gets swept away in the Los Angeles fast lane, and now "True Believer," about a radical lawyer from the 1960s who has recently specialized in defending drug dealers.
The characters in these movies are not all the same man, although they all share some of Woods' high-energy restlessness. The highflier in "The Boost," for example, is not nearly as intelligent as Eddie Dodd, the fast-talking lawyer in "True Believer." And yet all three characters are hypnotically watchable, because Woods talks fast and is always thinking, and his performances assume that the audience can listen and think as quickly as he can.
Does Woods tinker with the scripts he gets, or are they written with him in mind? In "True Believer," he bursts into his walk-up office in Greenwich Village, says hello to his secretary, asks "What is this thing?" about a weird piece of sculpture standing in a corner, and disappears before he can get the answer. The moment has no purpose in the larger context of the movie, and yet it establishes the character and implies that this lawyer leads a larger life, with other concerns that began before the movie and will continue after it's over.
Woods loves to pepper his roles with throwaways like that. It lends tension and texture even to plots that might seem standard in other hands. And the story in "True Believer" is a fairly routine version of the urban paranoia thriller, in which killers walk the streets because of corruption and compromise in high places. As the movie begins, Eddie Dodd is a burned-out pothead who represents drug dealers because they pay well, and usually in cash. He defends his practice by describing himself as on the cutting edge of civil liberties law, no matter that all of his clients are guilty.