Courtney Hunt, who scored an Academy Award nomination (Original Screenplay) for her 2008 film Frozen River, hasn't made a feature since then, logging only five episodes of TV in the intervening eight years. As a script, The Whole Truth carried Nicholas Kazan's name, who himself scored an Original Screenplay nomination for Reversal of Fortune back in 1980, but on the finished film, his script is credited under a pseudonym. There's no evidence to suggest who was responsible for Kazan's displeasure, but the flourishes that make Truth interesting seem to be Hunt's.
As the court case unfolds, Ramsey has a simple but insurmountable obstacle: Mike won't talk to him, or anyone else -- since the day his father was killed, he hasn't said a word. While he tries to find a way into Mike's confidence, he plays his only card: reveal Boone's casual cruelty toward his wife and Mike's mother, Loretta (Renee Zellweger) and paint him as someone Mike had to kill to protect her safety. The testimony from witnesess called by the prosecution are shown in flashbacks, which is Hunt's one lightning-bolt inspiration. Through these flashbacks (or the absence of them), the viewer is given instant insight onto the ways the people on the stand tell the truth, stretch it, or even alter it. Hunt sets this up with a particularly beautiful clip right near the begining: Boone, carrying a struggling child, with no sound. He throws the child, still struggling, in the family pool. After a brief cutaway to something else, she returns to the flashback, and Boone cannonballs in after his son. Immediately, the perception of the footage changes completely. Later, witnesses will describe an event that is shown in full. Moments later, they'll describe another, but only part of their account is actually shown.
Daniel Craig was initially slated to play the lead role, but it's hard to imagine his sometimes prickly demeanor co-existing with Ramsey's often mercenary attitude without making the character completely unlikable. Instead, Hunt got Reeves, who leavens Ramsey's opportunism with his natural charm. In one stretch of the film, the prosecutor (Jim Klock, perfectly cast) attempts to find his way through extremely sensitive territory during a witness interview, and comes out looking like a compassionless monster. Painting Ramsey with the same brush -- winning matters more than the truth -- is not very interesting, but Reeves finds notes to play that make the equivalency more interesting. (His co-stars don't fare as well -- the talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw is left to dangle with a character that is 75% backstory and 25% function, and Zellweger does little more than show off her collection of stares.)
As the film's ability to create suspense and intrigue is based on information that's being held back, obscured, or distorted, the ultimate ruling on whether or not any of the mystery was time well spent depends on how the film eventually shows its hand. A good movie would reveal the facts but use those revelations to put characters in morally or ethically challenging positions. Instead, Truth basically explains everything in a defeating flashback that defines the difference between the old Ebert notion of what a film is about versus how a film is about it. Despite the movie's title, "the whole truth" isn't all that interesting -- how it comes out, what it says about the characters, and how they react to it is what really matters.
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