A few things jump out at me as never before from all the times I've watched True Confessions. The writers, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, used very simple scenes to show the characters "back story wounds." The tension between the brothers is spelled out carefully (and literally) in the scene with their ill mother. ("May all your sons be Jesuits, sister", Duvall's character says to a nun as he brushes past her protests to visit his mother's bedside.) The murder victim's innocence is painted by a painstaking and awkward conversation with her parents about her dental retainer, no less. Forget "she was a good girl." The dialogue is so much richer with details about how and when she'd wear her orthodontia.
The fuel of fiction is complication and tension. It might have been simple enough to get closer to Jack Amsterdam's complicity in the dead girl's life and times in L.A. But then the Father Spellacy would have been too good a man with only minor problems with his brother the cop. No, Des Spellacy had to have met, and picked up in his car, the murder victim. And the madame, dead in the morgue, had to have made a last attempt to reach the man her former lover is trying to nail for Lois' murder.
As I begin building my character bible of my next mystery, I have to remember that redemption (and a cemetery plot in the desert) is only good if it's a rough and rocky road getting there. And that complication piled up on complication is what makes for great fiction. Now, back to work.