Thinking Pulitzer Prize and hoping to bring down a President, D.C. political columnist Rachel Armstrong writes that the President ignored the findings of a covert CIA operative when ordering air strikes against Venezuela. Rachel names the agent, Erica Van Doren, a woman whose young daughter is in Rachel's son's class at school. The government moves quickly to force Rachel to name her source. She's jailed for contempt when she refuses. She won't change her mind, and the days add up. Chaos descends on Van Doren's life as well. First Amendment versus national security, marriage and motherhood versus separation. What's the value of a principle? Written by
Quietly, cautiously and self-consciously, Rod Lurie has for nearly a decade now worked at building a sterling reputation as the most significant writer-director of substantial films since Oliver Stone. In such movies as "The Contender" and Abc-TV's "Commander In Chief", Lurie has dealt with politics and journalism and, in his uniquely appealing way, the odd, complex, symbiotic relationship between them. That vision was extended to also comment on--criticizing more than celebrating--the mystery of macho values, be they in actual combat or the athletic sphere, in "Resurrecting The Champ", "The Last Castle", and TV's "Line Of Fire"; here's a theme Lurie is certain to explore to its fullest in his announced remake of the controversial Sam Peckinpah classic "Straw Dogs".
Meanwhile, Lurie has returned to his original combination of preoccupations for "Nothing But The Truth", the film that will, if there is any justice in the world (and at the box-office), arc his reputation from cult indie filmmaker for the educated-elite into the most important mainstream movie maker in the business, able to entertain with edge of your seat suspense while quietly informing you about the most important elements in our society.
Clearly, "Nothing But The Truth" was inspired by the Valerie Plame/Judy Miller incident: the film focuses on a curious relationship that develops between a reporter (Kate Beckinsale) and a spy (Vera Farmiga) when the former "outs" the latter in a newspaper story. Yet anyone expecting a combination of docudrama and roman-a-clef will be in for a surprise. Rather than remain slavishly true to the details, or even the essence, of the real-life situation, Lurie employs the premise but loosely, in order to explore those issues that most matter to him: the powers of the press and the politicos, as well as the impact of their natural conflict on the all-important First Amendment.
But don't think for one moment that this turns out to be some dry 'message movie.' "Nothing But The Truth" plays as a Hitchcockian thriller, right down to the twist ending that makes a mainstream viewer want to go back and watch the movie over again, just to try and spot the hints of what is in store for us at the conclusion so as to try and grasp how we "never saw it coming" even though Lurie prepared us every inch of the way.
There are great lines here that people will be quoting for years as phrases and statements enter into our idiomatic English. Lurie's direction proves as scintillating as his writing: subtle touches make clear that he knows how to tell a story visually as well as verbally. Likely, film critics of today and cinema historians of the future will debate his smart directorial decisions; yet they are so subtly done that the average viewer will remain entirely unaware of them (the way, of course, it should be), blithefully enjoying a terrific 'show' as all the artistry is understated.
Best of all, Lurie--though clearly a liberal--never preaches to us in the manner we have come to expect (and, if the failure of W is any indication, finally reject) from Oliver Stone. Stone's movies are all centered around some idea which he hammers home. Lurie's films contain numerous ideas without ever becoming simplistically ideological. Though we clearly grasp what he thinks about important issues, Lurie leaves us free to make up our own minds. Stone tells us precisely what to think; Lurie explains what we ought to be thinking about. It's the difference between propaganda and education, the one narrowing our own intellectual abilities, the other expanding them.
Expect this to be the breakthrough film for an expansive auteur who gets a little bit better with each picture, though it's hard to see how he'll top this one. Then again, those of us who discovered his work early on said that about "The Contender" and every film he has made since.
--Douglas Brode Professor of Cinema/Television Studies The Newhouse School, Syracuse University
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