' Cinema Romantico: Nothing But The Truth

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nothing But The Truth

Rod Lurie's political drama/thriller that only made it to theaters last year in New York and Los Angeles possesses one of the most atrocious endings I have ever witnessed. It is utterly grandiose in its awfulness. It is the Three Mile Island of movie endings. I wanted to break bricks with my head when this movie ended. This movie, which stars Kate Beckinsale, made me long for the end of Ms. Beckinsale's "Pearl Harbor" where she and Ben Affleck stand in the sunset with their son who is actually Josh Hartnett's son. That end had some grace, some class, compared to this one.

The film is inspired by - though not "based on" - the New York Times reporter Judith Miller who was jailed for contempt of court when she refused to reveal her source in relation to her article outing Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. In "Nothing But The Truth" Beckinsale is Rachel Armstrong, a reporter for the Capital Sun Times, who has a husband and son at home and is on the verge of publishing an article that outs her fellow soccer mom Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) as undercover CIA. The government immediately enlists Pat DuBois (Matt Dillon, quite good) as special prosecutor to determine precisely who Rachel's source was that leaked this information. Rachel stands fast and, thus, the court holds her in contempt and much to her, her husband's (David Schwimmer) and her lawyer's (Alan Arkin) chagrin she is carted off to jail where she will stay until she chooses to fess up.

Like hell she will. Once behind bars the film shifts to a bit more of a domestic drama as she goes days and then months without seeing her son. Her husband accuses her of putting her career before her family. You know how it goes. Will this break her? Or won't it? And will the CIA discover the outed operative is, in fact, Rachel's source? Or is her source someone else? Hmmmmm....

The biggest question - at least for me - was whether or not Beckinsale finally made her mark with a film placed firmly on her slender shoulders. Well....she certainly isn't bad but I have to finally admit that maybe she just doesn't have that extra gear possessed by the best actresses. She earns points for letting herself look pretty darn bad in jail. Note the interview she conducts with the not-hard-hitting journalist. They show her a few times in closeup and it's pretty clear she is not wearing makeup. For Hollywood actresses, man, that is pretty damn bold. The scenes with her son are good. Unfortunately, she just doesn't have enough dramatic heft for some of the material. She's in jail a long time, you know, and other than that nasty bruises on her face you don't feel as if she's undergone any real change when the end rolls around. And do we really feel like this woman, at the beginning, has the fire, the willingness to roll around in the mud to pull off this sort of story?

Honestly, she's outdone by Farmiga who is required to make shifts from being a soccer mom reading books at her daughter's school to confronting CIA agents in an emotionally charged sequence in a cemetery. Alan Alda, meanwhile, does a credible job making his turn from cocky, "Zegna" wearing lawyer to a lawyer willingly working pro bono.

But, of course, what does any of this matter when you have a conclusion so hideous? If you thought the movie might not actually reveal Rachel's infamous source, don't worry. They do. Lord Almighty, they do. You won't see it coming. If you do somehow see it coming you will be hoping and praying that it won't actually come but it still will.

General consensus is that Hitchcock's "Psycho" has the worst ending of all time, and it is bad. The unecessary and awful blather offered up by the psychiatrist. Except the end of "Psycho" doesn't fundamentally change the movie's outcome. It is merely an ungainly appendange. It is why I have often argued that "Changing Lanes", an otherwise brilliant, underrated movie, contains the worst ending in cinematic history. It does fundamentally change the movie's outcome. Although, in this case, it was clearly added at the request of someone who wasn't the director or the writer. If you don't watch it you see the movie already had a perfect ending.

The end to "Nothing But The Truth" goes further - it fundamentally changes the outcome in a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad way and it was clearly conceived by Lurie himself from the beginning because it is set up at various other points during the movie. What was he thinking? Was he that pathetically desperate for some twist the audience would never guess?

Here's the primary problem: For an hour and forty minutes Lurie has given us a brave character who is stands firm for her belief. She has flaws, yes, and is in some ways abandoning her family, but this is a person who believes in something and determiens to see it through. She gets sent to jail and gets beaten, as the film says, "to within an inch of her life" and she still refuses to cave in for what the movie argues is a noble principle. Whether or not you agree with what she is doing you can admire this character for taking a stand.

Except the end wipes all of that off the board. Essentially it tells us that Rachel's entire motivation was less about nobility than about than about ensuring she does not negate her chances at that precious Pullitzer. In fact, it kinda unintenionally parodies the end of "Dick" when Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward tells the two teenage girls (who are, in fact, Deep Throat) they will never reveal their names. Not for their own protection, per se, but because "it's just too embarrassing."

Perhaps this was Lurie's intent. Perhaps he wanted to get the audience going in one direction for the whole movie and then suddenly reverse directions in the last instant and completely change our take on her. Perhaps he wanted us to go from crawling through the muck and mire with Rachel to wanting to just leave her to rot in that same muck and mire. If, in fact, this was his intent, well, bravo, mission most definitely accomplished.

But then I don't know his intent and, frankly, I don't care. Whatever it was, I didn't simply dislike the end, I actively loathed it. This is a lesson for all you aspiring screenwriters - please don't "shock" the audience for no good reason.

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