Four stars for mood and atmosphere despite dreadful plot flaws.
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (2005)
WRITTEN BY: Atom Egoyan, adapted from the novel by Rupert Holmes
DIRECTED BY: Atom Egoyan
FEATURING: Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman, David Hayman, Rachel Blanchard, Maury Chaykin, Sonja Bennett, and Kristin Adams
Tags: drama, thriller
PLOT: Racy themes dealing with contrasts between performers' on-stage and public personalities versus their private personas dominate this showbiz intrigue yarn about a journalist probing the death of a prostitute found in a famous comedy duo's hotel suite. Note when you see the film, how the title has a triple meaning.
COMMENTS: Where The Truth Lies is the first mainstream film I have seen from the quirky Canadian, Atom Egoyan, of whose dark, sardonic, sometimes excruciating material I am quite fond. The movie seems to have been harshly received by critics. This is not surprising given a trend in which they condemn any effort that portrays the showbiz industry in an unflattering light.
The storyline of Where The Truth Lies however, is flawed. There are some genuine plot stretches, and some unnecessary contrivances. Some of what was depicted just wasn't sensible or realistic. The plot has more holes in it than the windshield of Tiger Wood's SUV after one of his wife's golf club editorials about his latest weekend absence.
But the thing of it is, I didn't really notice while I was watching. That's because Where The Truth Lies is so stylishly done! The camera work is stunningly skillful, as is the editing. I loved the footage of the hilltop, glass-walled Stahl House location, with it's panoramic view of the city, as the set for Vince's (Firth) home.
The musical score is just gorgeous, a standalone, very artful bit of noir. I loved the characters and acting. I disagree with criticisms of Lohman's performance being unconvincing. I thought she was great. Lohman is striking and becoming, as are Adams, and Blanchard. While it is unlikely that many journalists look like starlets, Lohman was adequately cast.
Firth, Chaykin and Hayman give intriguing performances as always. I think that after that awful movie, Footloose (maybe the single most stupid Hollywood movie ever made), Bacon has been tops in everything he has done, and generally works in pretty good films. No, he is not a Sir Lawrence Olivier, or a Max von Sydow, but he brings a convincing quality to his work, yet it seems to be mysteriously chic for critics to disavow and underrate him.
Where The Truth Lies is a sheer noir atmosphere piece, plain and simple. The story is idiotic, and some of it is a bit confusing to follow. In places, one must activate closed captions to catch the correct wording of significantly pivotal, but mumbled key dialogue.
Such shortcomings notwithstanding, for a mystery, Where The Truth Lies maintained my curiosity and attention. This is the case despite a solution which is right out the most stereotypically pedestrian, British mystery pulp novel.
The film has a cinematic signature similar to those of Casino, Zodiac, The Doors, and Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders (2006). (This later, direct-to-video film is a partly fictional, partly speculative thriller based on the real life crimes. Despite complaints that it is low budget, it is not. It is to date, the most engrossing, stylish, chic, slick thriller I have seen. Rampage is the closest one of these in tone, visual footprint and overall feel to Where The Truth Lies. Where The Truth Lies is the only movie I have seen to offer a viewing sensation that is in the same class.)
My other criticism of Where The Truth Lies is that the sex is gratuitous, and used to dress up the story.
Yet I admit it; the sex is one of things I liked best about the movie.
I know that is rather debased.
It also means I fell right into the trap.
Scenes like the one which features the infamous leg crossing shot in Joe Eszterhas's Basic Instinct exist to draw in the lowest common denominator of audience. In fact, the entire movie was produced just to flaunt that vignette. There are other examples. Even Malle's artful Pretty Baby, really a very good film, was made mainly to showcase a 12 year old Brooke Shield's butt. This is not very cerebral filmmaking.
In Where The Truth Lies, the salacious lovemaking between beautiful Alice (Adams) and Karen (Lohman) projects the most eye-poppingly erotic, absolutely stunning oral sex scene I have ever witnessed in a movie. Scalding hot and delightfully scandalous given the story context, the brief frames are downright spectacular. The portrayal of the act is neither tawdry nor sordid or prolonged. It is tasteful, even beautiful, proving that Egoyan can make the best erotica in the business, even if his skill at choosing a sensible mystery script is as flawed as the plot of Where The Truth Lies.
In the throes of a dreamy, lust saturated haze, Karen surrenders to her desires. and is swept away by a stream of passion for saucy Alice. Back arched, her perfect body (body double?) beautifully illuminated, Alice between her legs stops, looks up at Karen and smiles, her mouth glistening in the moonlight with Karen's excitement. She tells Karen, "I like you," before dipping back down to continue.
I thought I would die!!
I could not believe that without showing anymore nudity than three brief flashes of breasts, Egoyan could make such a scene seem so viscerally explicit. I almost felt guilty being an observer. Atom Egoyan accomplished it so stylishly. It drove me up the wall!
We see Karen's blissful, ecstatic, reaction shot, as her head rolls back, her face betraying that she is in the absolute throes of pleasure. The light around her intensifies, artfully washing over her countenance symbolizing a cascade of unbridled orgasms. In filming that sequence the way he did, making it so sassy, sharp, and ethereal, Egoyan spawned years worth of fantasies for me.
Does this make Where The Truth Lies a better movie? Can it substitute for an intelligent plot with clever twists? No, quite the opposite.
But it surely made it memorable.