Friday, December 19, 2008

Film Review: Nothing but the Truth

Nothing but the Truth
Directed by Rod Lurie
Released December 19, 2008

Kate Beckinsale really hasn’t had the chance to prove herself as an actress. Films like “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” are hardly the showcase for a true acting performance, and no one expects that talent is required for “Serendipity” or “Underworld.” When people write about good acting performances, it’s usually regarding Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett. Now that this Kate finally finds herself with a role that truly has potential, could it be that she’s actually a good actress?

“Nothing but the Truth” bases itself loosely on the recent case involving New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whose exposé piece coincided with the blowing of a CIA agent’s cover. Miller refused to reveal her source and spent several months in jail protecting her journalistic integrity. “Nothing but the Truth” creates similar but fictionalized characters and actually references the Miller case at one point as a precedent for this type of occurrence. It’s a movie about what could happen now that the rights of a journalist can be questionably violated and that staying true to a principle can land someone on the wrong side of the law.

The case is heavily dramatized and cinematized to make for a showier, more extravagant filmic opportunity. Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale) refuses to reveal her source to special prosecutor Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon), and subsequently lands herself in jail. Her sentence is considerably longer than Miller’s, and her case takes far more violent and unexpected turns than Miller’s ever did. The problem is that none of it really involves Armstrong herself, and she doesn’t have any control over anything that happens, sitting in a crowded jail cell protecting her sacred principle.

Director Rod Lurie’s movie would have been far more compelling had it centered on the principle rather than on Armstrong’s life in jail. The action starts early on in the film, and there’s no time or effort given to show Armstrong’s enterprise in reporting and the true sacrifices she puts in to get the story that causes her so much grief. She’s a reporter upholding a belief, but it’s hard to sympathize with her if the audience hasn’t seen any instances of good reporting on her part. Seeing her sentence drag out and her willpower remain inexplicably strong makes this an altogether unrealistic film, when it should be a fascinating character study that stays close to true possibility. This is something that can and did happen, and there’s no reason to blow it out of proportion to make it seem more filmic.

Back to Kate, it’s hard to gauge how well she does. The role is written in a complex but flawed way, and Kate does her best to fill the gaping holes. It’s an impressive effort, but an altogether puzzling result. She seems angelic at times but is completely impenetrable as a character. It’s definitely Kate’s movie, however, with underwhelming supporting performances by an unusually bumbling Alan Alda as Armstrong’s attorney, the odd Vera Farmiga as CIA agent Erica Van Doren, and the more comedy-prone David Schwimmer as Armstrong’s semi-supportive husband. Otherwise, it’s a face-off between Kate and the somewhat talented Matt Dillon for most of the film, and Dillon’s performance is far more self-assured because, after all, he’s got the law on his side. Like Kate, the movie can’t seem to make up its mind about what it’s trying to say, and it’s a fair bet that Armstrong wouldn’t stand a chance in real life.

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