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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.



(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
... Father Des Spellacy (as Robert DeNiro)
... Det. Tom Spellacy
... Jack Amsterdam
... Frank Crotty
... Dan T. Campion
... Cardinal Danaher
... Msgr. Seamus Fargo
Rose Gregorio ... Brenda Samuels
... Howard Terkel
... Mrs. Fazenda
Thomas Hill ... Mr. Fazenda (as Tom Hill)
... Mrs. Spellacy
Jorge Cervera Jr. ... Eduardo Duarte
Susan Myers ... Bride
... 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


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

25 September 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Confesiones verdaderas  »


Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film was originally scheduled to open in late 1980 in time, but the post-production schedule was extended because United Artists didn't want the film to compete against its Oscar contender Raging Bull (1980), which also starred Robert De Niro, and had settled on a release date of February 1981, but was finally pushed back to September 1981. See more »


When the detectives are taking the crime scene photographs, the photographer is using a "Super Speed Graphic". This model of the classic Speed Graphic was not produced until 1956. This part of the story takes place in ca. 1947. See more »


[Tom gives Des the rosary he took from the priest who died while in bed with a prostitute]
Des Spellacy: He might have been there on a pastoral call.
Tom Spellacy: When was the last time you hung your pants over the side of the bed while making a house call?
Des Spellacy: I admit, that's not the way they teach you at the seminary.
See more »


Referenced in Knock Knock 2 (2011) 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 See 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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