“True Colors” has ambition. It wants to be an “All the King's Men” or “The Candidate” for the 1990s, a film to show how unprincipled ambition can lead a young man to the very top of politics, and then cast him down again. The new twist this time is that the young man comes from humble origins, and betrays the rich aristocrat who has been his friend. Usually it's the other way around.
The movie otherwise follows a predictable formula, but occasionally overcomes it through the skill of its acting, which redeems several scenes that seem to have been constructed out of durable Victorian novels. The key actors are John Cusack and James Spader, two of the best of their generation, playing this time against type: Cusack is often a hero, and Spader is usually a villain.
The movie begins with a Meet Cute on the first day of law school, when the two men have a fender-bender that's Cusack's fault.
This scene and the one that follows it are so contrived - so entirely at the service of the plot - that it's all the actors can do to soldier through them, but later there's worse, as it is revealed that Cusack has anglicized his name and fabricated his background in order to move in more elevated circles. These revelations are made in dialogue so tortured it belongs in a soap opera.