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Nothing But the Truth (Rod Lurie, 2008)


A hothouse drama feigning an important message about journalistic integrity, 2008’s Nothing But the Truth probably plays better the less seriously you take it. Presenting a fictionalized and highly selective take on New York Times journalist Judith Miller’s outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, the film stars Kate Beckinsale as Rachel Armstrong, a reporter whose life is ruined after she refuses to name her source to the federal government. Writer and director Rod Lurie strips his real-life source material down the barest concept, retaining only a  female reporter who refuses to reveal her source, risking a jail sentence. On the other hand, he utterly redacts the real-life political context that made this more than an ethical debate. Instead of the issue at hand being Iraqi WMDs, the leak here involves an attempted Venezuelan presidential assassination. While Lurie raises the bugaboo of national security as a bad guy, any lecture on ethics from a film that is not scrupulous enough to acknowledge the real world stakes that were motivating the drama is somewhat dubious. The opening scene, set on a school bus, makes the script’s simplistic moral perspective clear. “You’re not supposed to tattle!,” a child cries. Armstrong, his reporter mom replies, “You’re not supposed to put up with bullies either!” This translation of journalism ethics into soccer mom terms continues throughout.


It is fortunate, then, that less than an hour into Nothing But the Truth, once Armstrong has been jailed for her silence, things perk up. Railroaded by the courts and roughed up by her fellow inmates, Armstrong’s histrionic journey works best as middlebrow trash. Overzealous state attorneys, big courtroom revelations and marital infidelities continue to raise the stakes throughout. Finally, the film wraps up with one of the rare twist endings that actually avoids raising ire. Throughout all of this Beckinsale centers the drama admirably, turning what could be a sanctimonious role into something far more intelligent and sympathetic. The supporting cast is equally impressive, with especially strong turns from Alan Alda as Armstrong’s ever-rational attorney, Floyd Abrams as a federal judge and Vera Farmiga who is tough and believable as the outed agent. As a melodrama Nothing But the Truth succeeds more fully than as a message movie. Its surprising focus on motherhood and its strong female protagonist give this story a human interest angle that makes Lurie’s neutering of the true facts surrounding his plot’s inspiration more forgivable.



Jeremy Heilman