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Fanning the Plame

MOVIE REVIEW
Nothing but the Truth (2008)

NBTT-2
Yari Film Group

“Nothing but the Truth” melds politics and journalism – the primary dramatic interests of writer-director Rod Lurie – into one nicely compact narrative package. Inspired by the recent Valerie Plame scandal, the film matter-of-factly tells a story of the conflict between journalistic and governmental ethics. To his great credit, Mr. Lurie does so with only a modicum of moralizing and without ever pandering to one side or the other. He has a point of view to be sure, but he never lets it color things to a poisonous extent; and his screenplay unfolds in shades of grey.

The picture begins with star reporter Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) on the verge of a major story. Sources have leaked the big secret of Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga), wife of a high-powered diplomat turned administration critic. She’s a covert CIA operative, recently in Lebanon to investigate the perpetrators behind an assassination attempt on the president. The story goes to press, the American government and special prosecutor Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon) take an interest, and Rachel finds herself in jail for contempt when she refuses to out her treasonous source as required by law.

From start to finish, the movie passionately engages with the behind-the-scenes machinations surrounding the situation. It buries beneath the superficial headlines to reveal the work Rachel put into her story, the backroom dealings surrounding her case and the personal hardships she faces in jail away from her husband Ray (David Schwimmer) and son Timmy (Preston Bailey). It’s topical, directly questioning the very definition of patriotic behavior, but the themes emerge organically and not through any grandiose speechifying. The film ends unconvincingly and could have done without most of the scenes featuring a panicked, unhinged Van Doren, but when it sticks to the central story it holds considerable dramatic weight.

Mr. Lurie – never the most artful visual stylist – makes talky movies that need actors able to naturalistically pull off big chunks of dialogue. Fortunately, from the casting of Joan Allen and Gary Oldman in “The Contender” straight through to “Nothing but the Truth,” the former film critic has shown himself able to put together A list ensembles in which everyone has been given the right role. Ms. Beckinsale gives a strong performance, convincingly transforming Rachel from a composed, stoic go-getter to an emotional mess. Mr. Alda, fast becoming Lurie’s go-to guy after this and “Resurrecting the Champ,” seems to be having a great time playing Rachel’s flamboyant lawyer Albert Burnside. Same goes for Mr. Dillon, Mr. Schwimmer, Ms. Farmiga and the other co-stars.

It’s always important to have your cast on board with the material, but even more so when you depend on them so completely. For “Nothing but the Truth” to have the visceral contemporary impact it should, Mr. Lurie needs the film to seem as authentic and unembellished as possible. Thanks to his strong grasp of the inner workings of journalism and government, his understanding of the primary concerns facing each bulwark institution right now and his ability to write rich, thoughtful words for fine actors, the film largely does so. Of course the domestic dramatics could have used a surer hand, but one can’t have it all.

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

Opens on Dec. 17 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Rod Lurie; director of photography, Alik Sakharov; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupé; production designer, Eloise Stammerjohn; produced by Bob Yari, Marc Frydman and Mr. Lurie; released by Yari Film Group. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Alan Alda (Albert Burnside), Kate Beckinsale (Rachel Armstrong), Angela Bassett (Bonnie Benjamin), Matt Dillon (Patton Dubois), Vera Farmiga (Erica Van Doren), David Schwimmer (Ray Armstrong), Jamey Sheridan (Oscar Van Doren) and Noah Wyle (Avril Aaronson).

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