You can't fault the pedigree. Three Oscar winners out front, a gathering of the best supports money can buy (James Garner, Stockard Channing, Liev Schreiber . . . Even M. Emmet Walsh takes a momentary turn and promptly falls down dead) and a directing/writing team that were last doing great things with the autumnal graces of Nobody's Fool. So how they came up with this poverty stricken slice of contempo-noir is baffling.
Twilight - the title a reference to the leads' evident maturity - is one of those rarest of beasts: a Hollywood movie that's just too short. On everything. An underdeveloped storyline serves up a mishmash of noir staples: crinkly gumshoe (Newman) exposing a crime far too close to home for comfort; a moderately interesting femme fatale hiding a sordid secret; the past impacting on the present; a smattering of violence; smidgen of sex; low-key denouement; end credits. It's set in the heart of the film milieu as a kind of morbid commentary on the dying of Hollywood light, particularly Hackman's cancer-stricken producer, Jack Ames, and his ageing starlet wife Catherine (Sarandon), friends and landlords to Newman's retired P.I., Harry Ross. And after he accepts a delivery job for the at-death's-door Jack, it is Ross who prises open the requisite can-of-worms. You know the score - blackmail, murder, the cops slightly off the pace.
Shot in the naturalistic LA hues of brown and yellow, the film ducks and weaves about its plot without getting far. The sequence of events presents a muddle of characters (including nice but inconsequential turns from Garner and Channing) and shadowy showdowns, until a 20-year-old body is inexplicably exhumed and it's a short hop to picking which of the major players is likely to have plugged the victim.
This is episodic Chandler-lite, with only Newman given room to manoeuvre, his sandpaper vocals sharpening up some reasonably snappy dialogue. When he is allowed teasing confrontations with his various co-stars the film shows real signs of life. Sadly, the drama never arcs into anything nourishing, the ending offering up a minor twist which bears little relevance to what has come before. While it is always a pleasure to watch such heavyweights hold the screen together - the lead trio present the awkward mannerisms of the decaying heart with cool subtlety - they deserved far more for their efforts than an emaciated potboiler that finally boils dry.