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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nothing But the Truth

Nothing But the Truth, from 2008, is a competent but unexceptional film from Rod Lurie, very much keeping in tone from his earlier The Contender, in that he explores a legal situation from all angles in a kind of parlor-game manner. This time it's a fictional examination of the Judith Miller-Valerie Plame story, in which a journalist, outing a CIA operative, goes to jail for refusing to name a source.

The journalist is played by Kate Beckinsale, one of a host of familiar faces in the cast. The CIA agent is Vera Farmiga, the relentless special prosecutor is Matt Dillon, Beckinsale's husband is David Schwimmer and her flashy celebrity attorney is Alan Alda. They're all fine (though Dillon wears a Southern accent with difficulty) and the steps Beckinsale takes through the legal process, all the way to the Supreme Court, are interesting if not a little bloodless. Lurie attempts to inject some humanity into the piece, notably with the female characters, but these moments are few and far between.

Lurie also falls back on some old tricks. In The Contender, he had the president, played by Jeff Bridges, engaged in a running gag about ordering sandwiches from the White House chef. In this film it's Alda, who is a clothes horse, making jokes about designer duds. In fact, this film almost looks too good--even the female prisoners who share a communal cell with Beckinsale seem too perfectly arranged. I think this film is lacking some messiness that would lift it out of a lesson in civics to something more artful.

I watched the "making of" featurette and it was interesting that the cast members seem to come down on different sides of the issue, depending on the character they played. Dillon seemed to have a sympathy for the government, thinking that in matters of national security, journalists had no right to keep sources private. Alda, a reliable lefty of course, was four-square on the side of the First Amendment. Floyd Abrams, an attorney with the ACLU, was recruited to not only provide technical consultation but also play a judge. I think listening to him on the issue was far more engaging than the film itself.

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