Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, David Schwimmer, Noah Wyle | Written and Directed by Rod Lurie
I’m always somewhat skeptical when it comes to modern films that have an overlong transition from celluloid to home video, as there either wasn’t enough interest in a DVD release from the original distributor or nobody else thought it was worth putting out, and neither reason fills you with confidence that the flick’s going to be any good.
So when I saw that Nothing but the Truth had its cinematic run in 2008, I gulped and may have even rolled my eyes just a smidge. A quick recon of the plot – a political correspondent (Kate Beckinsale) for a D.C. newspaper refuses to reveal a source that led to her outing a CIA operative and lands herself in jail until she breaks – didn’t fill me up with enthusiasm, but the cast looked promising. Matt Dillon’s always pretty solid and Vera Farmiga always brings added depth to her characters, so I went in thinking that it might just be okay.
I wasn’t wrong. It’s okay, but that’s all. The political statements you’d think would be pretty heavy themes – government versus the press, 1st Amendment rights – are present; they’re talked about but rarely delved into, and I couldn’t really fathom why you’d make a political film without a message or statement. Oh , I suppose there is a statement of some form, but it takes the shape of a twist flashback in which Beckinsale’s informant is revealed – I won’t spoil it for you but the device is so unbelievably dumb that it undermined any goodwill I might have had toward the movie and reduced the film’s argument to almost naught. Nothing is really resolved and if you’re paying attention you can see it coming from the first ten minutes.
That aside, if you forget the last scene what you get is actually a pretty down film about the follies of the justice system and a protagonist who is far too principled to even exist, let alone be a political writer. Kate Beckinsale has been fine in the films I’ve seen her in, but I can’t remember an instance when I felt really emotionally attached to her character or moved by the importance of her story. She’s not the kind of actor who carries a whole lot of weight or even layers, and as a result this supposedly murky world of capital city politics is undercut by Beckinsale’s one-note, white hat performance.
Thankfully, the film is lifted by its supporting cast. Farmiga plays the outed CIA agent who simmers to a boil over the course of the story as her life falls apart piece by piece – though she exits disappointingly prematurely. The scenes she’s in are fraught with tension and duality, and she manages to make what’s often a pretty on-the-nose script (“You don’t want to mess with sleeping animals. They get cranky,” Beckinsale says to her son at one point) fairly palatable. The courtroom sections are enjoyable solely thanks to the work of Alan Alda and Matt Dillon as Beckinsale’s duelling defence and prosecution respectively. They play the scenes with conviction that their argument is right, and it’s often hard to argue with either, though Alda’s character does have an annoying tendency to tell everyone what brand clothes he’s wearing and displays a weird romantic affection toward Beckinsale when she’s laid up in prison hospital.
Not all the supporting cast are quite so watchable, mind: Noah Wyle pops up as the screaming, seemingly coked-up editor of Kate’s newspaper and does some utterly baffling wobbly-jowls acting as if we’d forgotten he was in the picture; and David Schwimmer shows up as the lead’s gutless novelist husband who (surprise surprise) turns out to be a cheating asshole once she’s behind bars. Personally, I thought Schwimmer’s gutless asshole from that one episode of Band of Brothers had more depth.
A mixed bag performance and script-wise, then. I’d like to tell you that it’s at least a pleasant experience to watch, but even that’s a disappointment; overuse of extreme closeups from the off and constantly cluttered are very disorienting and cheapen the production by making it feel like a TV movie. I usually reserve this kind of badmouthing for 3D features, but I genuinely felt nauseous during parts of Nothing but the Truth, with its swirly camera moves and giant, imposing foreheads.
“This film made me nauseous. And not in a good way.” I wish I could have reviewed this film in 2008 so we could try and get that on a poster.
Nothing but the Truth is out on DVD now from Signature Entertainment.