The first thing to hit the screen in Rod Lurie's journalism drama Nothing But The Truth is a disclaimer that the film is inspired by, but not based on, true events. It seems a tad unnecessary, given that much of the audience is walking in to the theatre with the full knowledge that we're seeing a film with Kate Beckinsale playing the Judith Miller role; suffice it to say, we're aware that certain liberties may have been taken.
But the story that unfolds here is very close to the Miller/Plame affair; Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong, a D.C. journalist who writes a piece revealing that the wife of a former diplomat, critical of the current presidential administration, is a covert operative--a piece of information apparently fed to her as political retribution. When she refuses to reveal her source, she is sent to the slammer, with discussions of the First Amendment and national security following suit.
The details have changed from the real story (Iraq is changed to Venezuela, 9/11 to an attempted Presidential assassination), but the broad strokes are there. The key criticism, from a political and historical point of view, of Lurie's adaptation is that it is a little too black and white; one of the more interesting conundrums of the Miller incarceration was how it required left-wing crusaders to defend a reporter who was (not to put too fine a point on it) basically a water-carrier for the Bush administration.
Lurie (whose previous credits include The Contender and The Last Castle) comes from a journalism background himself, though his scenes at the newspaper and with Armstrong's editor (Angela Bassett) are a little forced, the dialogue and pacing on the clunky side. Most of that stuff is out of the way early, however, and once Lurie gets going, Nothing But The Truth is actually pretty compelling.
Much praise is due to his talented cast, full of interesting character actors who don't get enough work--particularly strong are Noah Wyle, Courtney B. Vance, and Alan Alda, who keeps getting better with age (and has a closing speech here that's a real barn-burner). Vera Farmiga (The Departed) is in fine, fierce form in the faux-Plame role, while Matt Dillon makes some interesting (and mostly successful) choices playing the default villain.
The shooting style adopted by Lurie and cinematographer Alik Skharov is more than a little off-putting; they're clearly going for intimacy here, but everything is just a little too tight, a little too close, a little too claustrophobic. We're perpetually over someone's shoulder, and it starts to get irritating.
But Lurie's screenplay is intelligent and thoughtful, with moments of great insight, if a bit too much melodrama. The subplot with her husband (David Schwimmer) is pretty much a dead end, emotionally and structurally, and when the time comes for Rachel to deliver her big speech, it's plenty passionate but a little too written. That note aside, this is a strong piece of work by Beckinsale, a fine actress who I'd pretty much written off before this year (this follows her career-best work in Snow Angels last spring). She's particularly adept in the smaller, subtler moments--watch her very carefully in the scene when her husband and son come to visit her in jail (she has a fairly tense argument with her husband over the visitor telephones, all the while making faces and winking at her son, so he's none the wiser), and in the film's pitch-perfect closing sequence.
The 2.40:1 transfer nicely captures Skharov's stylishly blown-out lighting scheme; some may be put off by the resulting image, but it was present in the source and certainly not augmented here. Edges are sharp but not enhanced and contrast is solid, though some fine grain and minor noise are occasionally detectable and some aliasing can be seen in tight close-ups.
The 5.1 mix is surprisingly active for a film this chatty. Dialogue and score are crisp front and center, as expected, but there's plenty of directional effects and immersion, both in the film's rare bursts of action (as in the opening assassination sequence) and in quieter scenes (like an early conversation between Beckinsale and Farmiga during an outdoor soccer game).
English subtitles are also offered.
Writer/director Lurie and producer Marc Frydman provide an Audio Commentary for the film, which is cerebral and informative. Lurie, who started as a film critic and maintains a very analytical outlook, talks a mile a minute and at great detail about the making of the picture; his enthusiasm is infectious and he's fun to listen to. Frydman doesn't join in until after the 80-minute mark, but he provides some fine counterpoint and a few insights of his own.
Eight Deleted Scenes (10:29) follow; most brief and fairly expendable, particularly those that spend more time with Bassett, although a scene with Alda and Dillon at a hot dog stand is an interesting addition. "The Truth Hurts: The Making of Nothing But The Truth" (29:27) is a fairly meaty featurette, combining the expected cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with fairly substantive discussions of the issues the picture raises (with particularly interesting input by renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who appears in the film as a judge).
Nothing But The Truth has its problems--it takes too long to settle in, it is occasionally ham-fisted and pushy, and it is more interested in the journalistic implications of its story than the fascinating political ones. But there is still a lot to like here, particularly considering how phony it could have been.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.