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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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“Film criticism as a business operates like the film industry itself: The people in charge like to hire people who remind them of themselves, and those people at the top are by and large straight white dudes (baseball caps are an option). That’s not to say they can’t have wildly diverging opinions on a variety of topics, but privilege comes with blinders that are often hard to acknowledge and even tougher to remove. The past few months have seen some of the most prominent film publications taking on new writers who are for the most part white men: Rolling Stone, Film Comment, Indiewire, and of course, Owen Gleiberman at Variety. Many of them have championed underdog filmmakers, but you can’t get over the sense of gatekeeping going on. Film criticism often feels like the treehouse girls are banned from entering, and it’s not hard to assume the conversations we’re missing out on aren’t exactly centered on women in the business… Our world and our art suffers when we limit the number of perspectives allowed to not only tell the story but to discuss it. Women are no better or worse in their opinions than men, but the key differences we bring allow further dimensions in the narrative. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, the ingrained biases of white maleness will continue unchallenged without contrasting voices under the banner, and the commodification of women’s faces and bodies will exacerbate to increasingly damaging levels.”
~ Ceilidhann

DENNIS COOPER

The next thing that really changed my world and thoroughly influenced my writing were the films of Robert Bresson. When I discovered them in the late seventies, I felt I had found the final ingredient I needed to write the fiction I wanted to write.

INTERVIEWER

What was the final ingredient?

DENNIS COOPER

Recognizing that the films were entirely about emotion and, to me, ­ profoundly moving while, at the same time, stylistically inexpressive and monotonic. On the surface, they were nothing but style, and the style was extremely rigorous to boot, but they seemed almost transparent and purely content driven. Bresson’s use of untrained nonactors influenced my concentration on characters who are amateurs or noncharacters or characters who are ill equipped to handle the job of manning a story line or holding the reader’s attention in a conventional way. Altogether, I think Bresson’s films had the greatest influence on my work of any art I’ve ever encountered. In fact, the first fiction of mine that was ever published was a chapbook called “Antoine Monnier,” which was a god-awful, incompetent attempt to rewrite Bresson’s film Le diable ­probablement as a pornographic novella. So I came to writing novels through a channel that included experimental fiction, poetry, and nonliterary influences pretty much exclusively. I never read normal novels with any real interest or close attention.
~ Dennis Cooper Discovers Bresson

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