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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

“Nothing But the Truth”: an honest review

Published: August 31, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

In 2008, “Nothing But The Truth” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The distributor went bankrupt before the U.S. release, resulting in little to no publicity here in the States. In fact, I had never heard of it until a friend of mine decided to watch Kate Beckinsale movies every day at the end of the summer. Despite the obscurity of the film, it is surprisingly good.

“Nothing But The Truth” is very loosely based on the 2003 incident where the identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame was revealed to the public. Beckinsale portrays Rachel Armstrong, an ambitious reporter who got the scoop on fellow soccer mom, Erica Van Doren’s (Vera Farmiga) career as a CIA agent. Armstrong and Van Doren know each other personally due to their children’s friendship. Before Armstrong publishes an article identifying Van Doren as a covert agent of the CIA, she approaches her at a little league soccer game for a chance to comment on the article.

By this point it is clear that Armstrong will not hesitate to publish the article, and reasonably hopes to win a Pulitzer with it. The movie then illustrates the fallout that results due to publishing an article that identifies a CIA agent to the public.

After reaching 100 percent certainty that publishing the article would be legal, Armstrong’s paper publishes the article and Van Doren is exposed. Federal Prosecutor Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon) quickly brings Armstrong in for questioning. While everyone is in agreement that she hasn’t committed a crime, he asks for the identity of the original source. It is a possible risk to national security, and depending on their connection, they could be charged with treason. Sticking to her principles of journalistic integrity, Armstrong refuses to reveal her source. Even when brought before a grand jury, with sworn statements from anyone considered a possible source giving permission to reveal them, she refuses to testify regarding the identity of the source.

Meanwhile, as Armstrong endures months in jail, Van Doren believes that she was set up by someone within the agency, and seeks to find out why she was targeted. She assumes it has to do with a report she filed, suggesting that the incumbent president had no cause to go to war in Venezuela. This element of the story serves to mirror the weapons of mass destruction claim that former President Bush used to justify the war in Iraq. After being unable to proceed with her own investigation, and learning that as part of standard procedure she is also under investigation for possibly outing herself, Van Doren quits the CIA. She demands that her unseen protective detail leave her alone, paving the way for her to be targeted by nefarious organizations.

Being found in contempt of court, Armstrong is put in jail indefinitely until she is compelled to testify. Over the next year, her husband (David Schwimmer) becomes unfaithful, and she is beaten savagely over a bunk in her prison cell. In a twist, near the end of Armstrong’s eleventh month in jail, Van Doren dies. Nevertheless, Armstrong adamantly refuses to reveal her source. As it becomes clear that imprisonment will not compel her to change her mind, she is released. As her legal troubles continue, with charges of obstruction of justice for the year that she refused to testify, she reflects back on the people she interviewed for the article and reveals to the audience her original source.

The greatest strength of the movie, along with an intriguing plot, is the talented cast. Aside from the people listed above, the rest of the cast is consistently strong throughout the film. Schwimmer, for example, does a great job as the fiction-writing husband of Beckinsale. Additionally, Noah Wyle, playing the legal council for the newspaper does a great job as the skilled legal expert who knows when to hire a better lawyer for the case.

The biggest flaw of the movie is that its topic is at times unclear. It could be about the CIA leak, it could be about journalistic integrity, it might be about the first amendment. Ultimately it covers all of these themes, but it is generally unclear which theme was meant as the main focus. Clearly all of the themes in the movie are related and are meant to complement each other. The problem was that they all appeared to compete for the main theme. When two themes could have blended together and been more than the sum of their parts, the integration was not well executed.

If you like political thrillers, enjoy movies that pull part of the story from headlines, or are looking for a Kate Beckinsale movie that you have not yet seen, give this one a chance. In addition to being available on DVD for less than five dollars on Amazon, it is also available on Netflix and Amazon instant streaming.