Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVD Views: Nothing But the Truth

Nothing But the Truth *** ½ (2008)
Directed by:
Rod Lurie
Written By: Rod Lurie.
Starring: Kate Beckinsale (Rachel Armstrong), Matt Dillon (US Attorney), Alan Alda (Alan Burnside), Vera Farmiga (Erica Van Dore), David Schwimmer (Ray Armstrong), Angela Bassett (Bonnie Benjamin), Noah Wyle (Avril Aaronson), Preston Bailey (Timmy Armstrong), Kristen Bough (Allison Van Doren).

Rod Lurie likes to make movies about strong, principles women. In The Contender (2000), he made a great film about a woman (Joan Allen) who the President chose to be his Vice President, after his died. Despite the fact that the opposition went after her with everything they had, she never lost her principles. In his underrated, short lived TV show, Commander in Chief, Geena Davis played the first female President that went well beyond its tired conceit, and turned out to be an intelligent, politically savvy show.

Now in Nothing But the Truth, he makes another fine film about strong women. In the film, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) plays a reporter for a Washington newspaper who breaks a huge story. It turns out that the wife of one of the Administration’s biggest critics is really a CIA agent, and she may have fed him some of the ammunition he used to criticize the President. She runs with the story, which becomes national news. The administration is not happy, and assigns a special prosecutor (Matt Dillon) to find out who leaked the information to Armstrong. Armstrong, who has broken no laws in writing the story, suddenly finds herself thrown in jail because she will not reveal what her source is. She is told then when she’s willing to talk, she’ll be released. If not, she will remain in jail for contempt of court.

Rod Lurie uses the broad outlines of the Valerie Plame/Judith Miller scandal, and turns it into an intelligent political thriller. Of course, he turns Armstrong into a more sympathetic figure than Miller was to let the audience feel for her. Beckinsale gives the best performance of her career, making Armstrong into a strong, principled woman, who has to give up everything important in her life to do the right thing. Unlike the recent Flash of Genius, which had a character do essentially the same thing, Beckinsale and Lurie let us see why she makes the choices that she does, and how much pain it causes her to do so.

Lurie surrounds Beckinsale with an expert supporting cast. Dillon is not painted as a snarling bad guy out to get Armstrong at all costs, but a man with a job to do, and who is willing to use all legal means within his disposal in order to get the job done. Alan Alda is even better - giving one of the best performances of his long career as Armstrong’s lawyer, who is just as fierce as Dillon. Vera Farmiga continues her string of strong performances over the last few years as the woman who Armstrong outs. She is a family woman like Armstrong, just trying to raise her daughter right. She finds it hard to deal with the spotlight that is suddenly thrust upon her. And finally David Schwimmer gives a surprising strong performance as Armstrong’s husband who cannot understand why she does what she does.

Nothing But the Truth is an uncommonly intelligent political thriller. Although it addresses some serious political issues, it never lets them overshadow its story, which is told in an entertaining, tense fashion. Lurie is a strong filmmaker, who excels at this type of film. His last couple films - the prison drama The Last Castle and another reporter drama Resurrecting the Champ - have not been quite as strong as this or The Contender. In an industry where few films are centered around strong, intelligent women - where talented actresses are still reduced to play little more than the supportive “wife” role - it is refreshing to see a film that has not one but two women at the center of it. That it is also an entertaining, intelligent film is a bonus.

Note: I saw Nothing But the Truth at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and thought it was an "uncommonly intelligent political thriller", as I stated in my review. The rest of the critics seemed to agree as well. Through no fault of the filmmakers, or the film itself, the company who made the movie - The Yari Film Group - had some financial problems during the end year, and Nothing But the Truth ended up barely getting released, and was all but overlooked during the awards season. This review was written right after I saw it in Toronto, and I am happy that the DVD has been released, so hopefully this film finds the audience it deserves. And one more thing, if you have the chance to attend a Q&A with writer/director Rod Lurie, I would encourage it. I have seen many great filmmakers over the years at TIFF, but none held a better Q&A than Lurie did. He was enthusiastic, not just about the movie, but the upcoming election, an engaged in thoughtful debate with the audience. If he ever comes back to TIFF, I'll be sure to go.

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