Movie view: Nothing But The Truth

Year of release: 2008

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda

Director: Rod Lurie

Viewing: Netflix DVD

 

Three Reasons to Watch:

  1. You always dreamed of seeing Kate Beckinsale incarcerated.
  2. You wondered what Rachel and Ross’s marriage would look like after ten years.
  3. Alan Alda gives one terrific speech in front of the Supreme Court.

 

Three Reasons to Avoid:

  1. Ten-year-old characters who say things like, “Mrs. Van Doren, would you please tell Allison I said hello.” 
  2. You’re not that keen on watching a character put herself through hell for no reason whatsoever.
  3. You’d rather not see a middle-aged Noah Wyle.

 

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

 

One of my favorite political dramas is “The Contender,” the story of the intrigue surrounding the nomination of a female to fill the vacant vice presidency. That film was written and directed by Rod Lurie, who is also the creative force responsible for “Nothing But the Truth.” Unfortunately, this effort does not meet the standard Lurie set in his previous film.

 

Kate Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong, an investigative journalist who writes a story revealing that Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) is an undercover CIA operative. Outing a covert agent is against the law so the justice system wants Armstrong to name her source, which she refuses to do, going to jail on contempt charges. Clearly, this film is inspired by the real life outing of Valerie Plame by Judith Miller of the New York Times; however, a story about Judith Miller would not cast her as heroic. Miller is part of the corrupt Washington press corps which serves as a means for political insiders to spin and manipulate the news. In Miller’s case, Scooter Libby, most likely acting on behalf of his boss, Dick Cheney, leaked Plame’s identity as retribution because Plame’s husband had disputed White House evidence that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon. A great movie could be made from this material, demonstrating how privileged, lazy Washington reporters allow themselves to be used by political operatives in return for access, so that they can retain their cushy assignments.

 

This is not the story told in “Nothing But The Truth.” Instead, Armstrong is a brave, principled reporter who risks her marriage and even the relationship with her son to resist an over-zealous special prosecutor (Matt Dillon) named to investigate the source of the leak. That, too, could be a fine movie in itself, but this film is just not well made. My bad-movie radar went up immediately during the opening scene, where Armstrong is riding the bus to school with her young son. I don’t have children, but even I sensed that the dialog written for the child actors was stilted and unbelievable. The children speak like small adults, and what they say is intended to serve the story, not any real-world idea of how a child might really talk and what he or she might really want to say.

 

From then on, “Nothing But the Truth” had to prove to me that it was a good movie, and it failed to do so.

 

There are good elements. The acting of the adults is acceptable, especially Beckinsale. David Schwimmer turns in a nice, weaselly performance as Armstrong’s unfaithful husband. Noah Wyle plays counsel for the newspaper where Armstrong works, and looks appropriately middle-aged, which was kind of a shock to me. Alan Alda, who is always worth watching, is Armstrong’s equally principled attorney. The argument he makes before the Supreme Court may be the best thing in this film. It is still a privilege to watch Alan Alda work.

 

But the film falls apart because it fails to maintain its own integrity. It depicts Armstrong, at least in part, as a victim of gender prejudice, when it is implied by other media outlets that she is a bad mother for putting her career before her son’s welfare. Beckinsale has a fine little speech about how parenting was never an issue when men have taken similar stands. Then the twist comes at the end of the film when it is revealed in a flashback that the whole affair started when Van Doren’s young daughter sat next to Armstrong that day on the bus and spilled the beans on her mother. You see, the entire ordeal boils down to Armstrong wanting to protect a child… the old maternal instinct. 

 

Not only does this seem hypocritical to the movie’s message about gender blindness, but it knocks the logical support right out from under it. There was no national security issue at stake, no reason for the government to be worried about a leak, and all Armstrong would have had to do is tell someone the truth. If she didn’t want to tell the prosecutor, tell the judge. Obviously the child would not have been prosecuted and the whole thing would have gone away. There was no need to protect the child, because the child was never going to be punished. If she was worried the child would feel guilty — especially considering what happens to her family — well, the child would never have needed to know anything more than she did. If she remembered telling Armstrong, she was going to feel guilty anyway, regardless of what Armstrong did. 

 

And, yes, one could say that it isn’t a question of who the source of the leak was, it is that the government never had any right to force a newspaper person to reveal her source. But, in fact, according to the law, the government does have this right. There are times, surely, when the right thing for a journalist to do is to refuse to cooperate, when an insider blows the whistle on wrong-doing and faces retribution. This was clearly not one of those times, except that the filmmaker said it was. And, as Amy pointed out, it is equally, if not more likely that Armstrong was motivated, not by principle, but because of the criticism she would receive from having used a child to rat on her own parent.

 

Because, well, it is a shitty thing to do, really.

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