Before his ill-advised and not-terribly-well-received remake of Straw Dogs in 2011, director Rod Lurie showed us what he can really do at the helm of a picture. I use the term ‘at the helm’ advisedly here, as it’s pretty much a one-man show, with Lurie having not only produced and directed but written the piece as well. Due to a fairly limited release in cinemas across the globe – problems with the distribution company going up the Swanee, apparently – it will not have been available to the popcorn and hot dog set. It has done very well on DVD however and I was lucky enough to come across a copy courtesy of our good friends here in Belgium, Paradiso Entertainment, without whom, as they say in the Oscars, none of this would have been possible.
Nothing But the Truth (2008) opens with a journalist, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) pitching what could be the scoop of the year to her editorial team. Following an assassination attempt on the president of the US, intelligence reported that Venezuela were responsible and with the usual restraint of western superpowers, the US launched a retaliatory air strike, causing repercussions around the globe. Things are not always as they appear, and Armstrong has evidence that there was strong evidence from a CIA agent, Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) that the Venezuelans weren’t in fact involved. Worse still, it may have been ignored for political or jingoistic purposes. This is a story that could be the next Watergate and Armstrong wants to blow it open, and maybe collect a Pulitzer prize into the bargain. There are complications, however – aren’t there always?
Rachel has her sources but is not required to disclose them under state law. This point would be entirely moot, except for the small matter of the story blowing an embarrassing hole in the government’s PR – a consequence that will come back to haunt Rachel, Erica and many of the people they hold dear. Trouble pretty soon comes knocking at the two ladies’ doors. Not least because their children go to the same school, putting Van Doren’s integrity as an agent in jeopardy. The name of this trouble is Special State Prosecutor, Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon). The newspaper Rachel works for knows the reputation of the special prosecutors and hires the talents of the best representation money can buy, in the form of Albert Burnside (Alan Alda). The courtroom and political drama that plays out form here is a joy to watch, albeit in a voyeuristic and helpless fashion. No spoilers here, you’ll really have to go see it. Suffice to say, it’s based on a true story, so if your nerves are jangling by the end – as they should be – the cast will have done their job well.
You’d think that with Dillon and Alda as the (alpha) male leads, the little ladies would be pushed out and play second fiddle, in true Hollywood style. How wrong you’d be. Alda is superb as a genial older lawyer who’s obviously still kept his legal chops and Dillon is great as the snide agent playing both good and bad cop simultaneously. You’ll despise him, really you will. However, the female leads act them out of the ring. Beckinsale manages to be sassy, hard and a vulnerable family woman by turns and pretty much steals the show. Farmiga shows equal amounts of strength and vulnerability as she fights not only the press but her spymasters as well. This is all about the women and works extremely well. As an aside, the weakest male role by far was David Schwimmer as Rachel’s husband. Every scene he’s in, he brings down by being incapable of not being Ross from Friends. A shame, and for me one of the only low points of a wonderfully told tale.
No SFX, no scenery and no car chases, just dialogue, direction and some great performances. As I mentioned, Lurie obviously knows his way around a film set, and I doubt his years as a journalist did him any harm. He writes and directs with fluidity and excellent continuity, never letting the pace go slack. As legal dramas go, they can get a bit tired and flabby in the middle, only to pull out the big guns in the end. Nothing But the Truth sets a lively pace and maintains throughout, leading to a finale that will leave you sickened. Even though you may have second-guessed it.