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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

New on DVD: Nothing But the Truth

You could argue that Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, starring Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga in career-high performances, lost out on being an Oscar contender because its distributor, Yari Film Group, declared bankruptcy. And you’d probably be right.
Loosely inspired by the Valerie Plame case, the film focuses on Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale), a reporter who goes to jail rather than reveal her source for a Pulitzer-prize nominated story revealing Erica Van Doren (Farmiga), another mom at her son’s school, to secretly be a CIA operative.
The film shows us the events as they unfold from the perspective of a reporter who’s willing to stay in jail and lose her husband and son rather than reveal who her source was. And as you’re watching the film, while your sympathies lie primarily with Armstrong, there are points where you wonder, how much is this woman willing to take in fighting for this abstract principle of the right of a journalist to protect a source, even in matters the government considers to pertain to national security? You wonder, if I found myself in her place, would I have that strength myself?


But what Lurie does with this film embodies so much more than that issue, important though it is. There’s a point in the film where Rachel argues that she’s being villified for being a woman and a mother, that she’s being painted as stubbornly refusing to reveal her source in spite of the effects on her husband, and especially her young son, from her incareration, and that no one would make those same accusations against a man who goes to jail for a cause he believes in, or a man who leaves his family to fight a war. She’s right. Lurie’s choice to make the character of Rachel a woman, and to pit her against another woman who might have been her friend in other circumstances, adds a layer to this film that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
When Nothing But the Truth showed at Ebertfest this weekend, it was, by my estimation, the most divisive film on the slate. After every other film that played the fest, audiences — whether they’d completely enjoyed a given film or not — were still buzzing positively about the experience of seeing it. After Nothing But the Truth, though, folks who saw it could be heard arguing about it, in the wash room and outside the theater. A lot of people didn’t like it — or at least, they didn’t agree with Rachel’s choice to go to jail at the expense of her family to protect her source. Some of them didn’t seem to like the reveal at the end, where the truth about Rachel’s source, and why she was willing to sacrifice so much to protect that source, is shown. So perhaps not everyone who saw the film at Ebertfest liked it, but when a film inspires that much discussion and dissent, well, I think it’s done something right.
Nothing But the Truth is a remarkable film. Lurie’s direction is taut and assured, the pacing is tense, and most of all, the performances by Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga are extraordinary. What a rare thing it is for any Hollywood film to offer not just one, but two such strong female roles, roles that rely not on the sexiness of the actress, or revealing her cleavage, or showing how men react to her presence or how her life and choices are determined by her relationship with a man, but purely on the strength and intelligence of the characters.
Beckinsale and Farmiga are fierce in their opposition to each other, but heartbreakingly human in the way in which they spar with each other. Van Doren’s life has been unraveled by Armstrong revealing her to be a CIA operative, and when it comes down to it, even her CIA bosses accuse her of revealing herself and destroying her own life; Armstrong’s life has been unraveled by her decision to write the story and by the consequences of that choice, which she couldn’t have imagined at the time she took the information she had and began to dig into the truth around the revelation of Van Doren’s secret.
It’s an intricate, fascinating story, made more interesting because of the way these two strong, female characters are drawn. There’s a complexity to the story that Lurie nails, and although you might start to suspect why Rachel is willing to go through all she does and make the sacrifices she makes to protect her source, the moment at the end pierces you, and makes you question all the assumptions you’ve made about her up to that point. And I should note that Beckinsale and Farmiga are backed up in their roles by some equally strong performances by the other performers who bolster the story, especially Alan Alda as Rachel’s attorney, Matt Dillon as the fiesty young special prosecutor who locks horns with her in a battle of wills and power, and Angela Bassett as Rachel’s editor.
It’s a shame that Nothing But the Truth lost its Oscar legs. Both Beckinsale and Farmiga, all due respect to Best Actress winner Kate Winslet, deserved to be in the running, and both their performances are more raw, honest and powerful than Winslet’s performance in The Reader that won her Oscar gold.
You probably didn’t get a chance to see Nothing But the Truth in theaters, but you have a chance to see it now that it’s out on DVD. I have to agree with Roger Ebert that it’s one of the most overlooked films of last year; perhaps it will get some new life and attention in its DVD release, because this film needs to be seen — for its underlying political message, yes, but equally so for the strength of the writing, the direction, and most of all the performances by Beckinsale and Farmiga. Roles this good for women just don’t come along that often, and Beckinsale and Farmiga deserve attention, and accolades, for the passion and fire with which they bring those characters to life. Put Nothing But the Truth at the top of your DVD rental list, and check it out for yourself. You might not agree with everything Lurie has to say in this film, but you can’t argue with the power of how he brings his tale to life.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook