Judge Brendan Babish should learn not to expect much in the way of plot from unrated erotic thrillers.
Where the Truth Lies is a new erotic thriller from writer/director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter). The movie raised a few eyebrows when it received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. In an attempt to lower the rating to an R, Egoyan made cuts to the film, including an orgy between two men and a lady. When the MPAA refused to change their original ruling, the film was released uncut, and without a rating. Despite this tawdry back story, Where the Truth Lies ended up grossing less than a $1 million at the US box office. Will it be able to find its audience on DVD?
Facts of the Case
Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon, Mystic River) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) are a swinging, boozing comedy duo from the 1950s (think Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who are probably going to be referenced in every review of Where the Truth Lies). Like Martin and Lewis, Morris and Collins suddenly break up at the height of their popularity. Unlike Martin and Lewis, it isn't just internal bickering that breaks up the partnership. In 1957, the body of a college student, Maureen O'Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard), is found in the bathtub of the duo's suite. Though neither is charged with murder, the girl's death casts a suspicious pall over both Morris and Collins. They break up and refuse to publicly discuss O'Flaherty's death.
That is, until Collins agrees to tell his story to a young journalist, Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman, Matchstick Men), for a $1 million payday. This agreement occurs 15 years after the body was discovered. Collins has withdrawn from the spotlight and needs the money, while Morris's career is still thriving. Morris tries to discourage O'Connor from pursuing the story, but ends up becoming embroiled in her research after a chance meeting on an airplane leads to a romantic encounter. O'Connor continues prying into the duo's past and discovers much more happened 15 years ago than a dead girl in a bathtub.
Atom Egoyan has a long career of crafting smart, modestly budgeted independent films. While Where the Truth Lies' budget of $25 million may constrain many of Hollywood's spendthrift directors, it is, by a large margin, the most money Egoyan has ever had to work with. The money is not wasted. Where the Truth Lies is a sleek, stylish film; so much so that I often found myself admiring the camera angles and art direction while simultaneously snickering at one of the countless missteps in the plot.
While some of the film's problems are pronounced enough to be amusing, they ultimately add up to a frustrating movie-going experience. Where the Truth Lies could have been an excellent film. It's based on a clever novel by Rupert Holmes, which wildly speculates that the appearance of a dead body in the bathtub is what broke up the comedy duo of Martin & Lewis (with Morris and Connors as the thinly disguised stand-ins for Jerry and Dean). This is an ingenious idea for a novel, and could have been turned into a brilliant film. Unfortunately, while Egoyan nails the more challenging task of recreating the 1950s (and '70s), he still makes several crucial mistakes that doom the picture.
The first problem is casting. Kevin Bacon playing the smoldering "crazy Jew" of the duo is wrong in so many ways. I suppose the most obvious problem is that Bacon doesn't look Jewish. The second problem is that Bacon is not a competent enough comedic actor to convincingly play a slapstick star of the 1950s (and neither is Firth). Then there are the scenes from the 1970s, in which Bacon seems to have aged 30 years instead of 15. Despite this, he is still able to seduce the supposedly tough-as-nails reporter O'Connor. Here my frustrations fork: I am equally annoyed at Morris's unlikely bedding of O'Connor as I am about Lohman's uninspired performance—and she has been one of the more reliable young actors in Hollywood. That said, it's not as if Lohman had much to work with.
For a hotshot young journalist, Karen O'Connor is shockingly impressionable and naïve. Though she is working with men who are the suspected murderers of a young woman, she (despite being young) seems to have no compunctions with spending the night with one and ingesting mysterious pills given to her by the other. These inexplicable decisions make O'Connor seem more like a sycophantic fan than a serious journalist. Compounding this is the fact that neither Bacon nor Firth have the magnetism that could explain their spell over this young, seemingly intelligent, woman.
In humorless thrillers like Where the Truth Lies, strong characters and the integrity of the plot are essential. There are far too many contrived moments here, where the characters are clearly acting to advance a plot instead of their own best interests. After the film ends and you have time to reflect, these plot weaknesses only multiply. While this adversely affects the quality of the film, it will provide much grist for a post-movie discussion with your friends.
The picture and sound on the DVD are not perfect (there is a slight haloing effect on bright objects) but they do adequately display the impressive job Egoyan has done recreating the 1950s and early 1970s. The film's elegant look may be its biggest asset and there are moments you may even dismiss the plot to ogle some of the exquisite set designs. The extras on the DVD are clearly perfunctory add-ons. There is a short featurette that is merely a montage of the filmmakers and actors at work. The deleted scenes introduce an excised subplot involving Karen and her father, which runs only two minutes and would have slowed the movie down. There are also a handful of scenes that serve only as unnecessary exposition.
Atom Egoyan has created a beautiful film that was obviously made with great care and attention to detail. Unfortunately, the plot is too contrived to hold up under even light scrutiny.
Guilty of a half-baked plot and wasting a series of beautiful set pieces.
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Scales of Justice
• Making of Where the Truth Lies
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