"The very stress on individualism, on competition, on achieving material success which marks our society," ethicist Sissela Bok has observed, "also generates intense pressures to cut corners." True Colors (Paramount Pictures), provides a case study of the dire effects of an individual's lack of ethical standards.
Tim Garrity (James Spader) and Peter Burton (John Cusack) meet in law school in 1983. Although they differ in class, temperament, and goals, the two become friends. During one summer, Burton lands a job working for Senator Stiles (Richard Widmark) in Washington, D.C. He drops out of law school and marries Tim's former girlfriend, Diana Stiles (Imogen Stubbs), the Senator's daughter. He vows to run for Congress within ten years. Meanwhile, Tim finishes school and goes to work for the Justice Department.
Intent on his political career, Peter begins cultivating support by providing favors to a conniving real estate tycoon (Mandy Patinkin), even going so far as to get Tim to begin a Justice Department investigation against the man's competitors. When his friend's wheeling and dealing leads to Tim losing his job, he decides to go undercover as a member of Peter's campaign staff in his bid for Congress. In the process, all his illusions about his friend are shattered.
Kevin Wade's razor-sharp screenplay zeroes in on the moral bankruptcy of Peter Burton, a young man who has no faith in the old virtues of honesty, integrity, and responsibility. True Colors, which is directed by Herbert Ross, also zaps the shabbiness of government by checkbook, cocktails, and back-room deals. At one point, Peter says to Tim, who still believes in truth and justice, "Most people don't see the world with the same eyes as you do!" One of the scariest things about America is that more and more moral midgets like Peter Burton are seizing positions of power in government, law, and business. And unlike this film's finale, they are not getting a comeuppance.