The Theory of Chaos

Friday, September 21, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Where the Truth Lies

Originally published 10/16/05
Full review behind the jump

Where the Truth Lies

: Atom Egoyan
: Atom Egoyan, based on the novel by Rupert Holmes
: Robert Lantos
: Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman, Rachel Blanchard, Sonja Bennett, Kathryn Winslow, Kristin Adams, Maury Chaykin

I can’t give you any details about the scene where Kevin Bacon does his best acting in
Where the Truth Lies. What intrigue the movie offers comes in the form of its central mystery, and the scene in question is the key to understanding it. It’s also the scene that caused the MPAA – which calls its ratings code “voluntary” but serves as more effective censors than any society in the civilized world – to threaten the financial deathblow of an “NC-17” rating. Many newspapers refuse to carry ads for “NC-17” movies and chains like Wal-Mart and Blockbuster refuse to stock them, kowtowing to the nattering boycott threats of a religious minority (both Egoyan and producer Robert Lantos attest to the presence of two clergymen participating “unofficially” in the ratings board’s discussion). The film’s distributors, ThinkFilm, have opted to release it without a rating, which has the same effective result but at least allows them to make some statement.

In any case, cutting the scene would be impossible – writer/director Atom Egoyan filmed it the most effective way possible, in a single wide take. And without seeing it, the power of what is revealed is lost.

But back to Bacon’s acting. He’s survived being the center of the “Six Degrees” movie game and even survived
Hollow Man, and has been steadily building and expanding his body of work. He is at this point a reliable professional with range and daring, and awaits only the right alignment of role and visibility to start finally collecting critical kudos. And he does some of his best work in this picture, an adaptation of the novel by Rupert Holmes – he of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” fame. I just wish that this performance, and this principled stand against economic censorship, had come together in a better movie.

When the scene comes you’ll know it. Listen to Bacon’s tone, the way he’s almost scolding. A line has been crossed, one which was never spoken of but in his voice you sense that he was aware of it and its inviolability should have been understood. It’s not pure rage, there’s disappointment involved, too. It says more about this movie’s most compelling aspect than any of the clunky voice-over or flat sleuth work by writer Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman).

She’s a young journalist, it’s 1972 and young journalists are trying out all sorts of things, like inserting themselves into their stories. Hunter Thompson certainly made it look cool. Of course, Hunter Thompson could write, and from every example provided by the movie, Karen O’Connor can’t. If it weren’t for a hidden connection she has with her subjects, it’s unfathomable that a major publisher would hand her this assignment – to co-author the tell-all autobiography of Vince Collins (Colin Firth), the dapper half of the long-split music and comedy duo Collins and Morris (Bacon).

Alison Lohman is a supremely capable and confident young actress, so I can’t answer why she seems so adrift in what needs to be the plot-driving role of the story. Her publishers hope she will finally coax the truth out about a) why Collins and Morris separated 18 years before, and b) what really happened the day the body of Maureen O’Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard) was discovered in their hotel’s bathtub after the completion of their marathon charity show.

Collins was the straight man, Morris the rude goon. On-stage Collins had to save Morris from his own antics, off-stage we learn that when Collins stepped in, it was with scripted lines Morris wrote. Their relationship is one co-dependency built atop another: Morris needed that debonair reserve Collins provided – in his own words, Collins’ affection for him on-stage gave the audience permission to like him, too.

See, Morris is writing his own tell-all, and O’Connor keeps getting sample chapters slipped to her by various means. And then she bumps into Morris on an airplane, and from there I should only say that to be compromised by one of your investigative targets is one thing, but to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to do so with two seems like carelessness.

There is a great deal of sex in the movie, which is important because it is important to the characters. When Firth and Bacon are together on-screen, the ritzy grandeur of the nightclub 50’s all around them, the complex possibilities of the movie are briefly visible. Their act is convincing enough to take on the road. But we keep returning to O’Connor, behaving in one inexplicable way after another, and then Egoyan (so masterfully delicate with The Sweet Hereafter, almost all thumbs here) ladles on more overwrought music and dull narration like so much gravy.

There’s moments, beautiful moments. A mother (Kathryn Winslow) making a speech about a tree. The way a mobster (Maury Chaykin) wheezes “You like lobster?” Maureen O’Flaherty resting her head on a pillow and, eyes half-closed with sleep, stating her terms. They keep sliding out of view, just another shuffled angle in a movie that never decides how best to approach its subject but treats every attempt with equal pomp. In the end it’s closer to laughable than devastating, and a real shame for the talent assembled. I left thinking that Collins & Morris, and the mysterious Maureen, had the makings of a crackerjack movie, and that the perfect actors were already in place to play them. Too bad you tend to get only one shot at these things.


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