Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Golly, What a Good Movie!

"Nothing But the Truth," 2008, written and directed by Rod Lurie, suggested by (though not based on the details of) the Valerie Plame Affair and the subsequent jailing of NYTimes reporter Judith Miller for refusing to divulge her source to a special prosecutor.

The journalist heroine of this movie (played by Kate Beckinsale, who should have been nominated for multiple awards for this role, and should have won them all) is not based on Judith Miller, which is a relief, though the wringer she is put through in this story makes me reevaluate my attitudes toward Miller during the Plame investigation. I did not look on Judith Miller at the time as a heroine of journalism. Maybe I should have.

Some 49 states of our Union now have laws on the books explicitly protecting journalists from the power of the State to compell them to divulge confidential sources of information. Only the federal government (and poor freakin' Wyoming!) has no such shield laws, and it's precisely the power of the federal government that needs constant exposure (I don't care who's president). The power of our federal government to chill the flow of information, to stifle free speech with intimidation, with the prosecution of good people (journalists, truth-seekers, whistle-blowers) under the guise of "national security" ... that's the great theme of "Nothing But the Truth." (Incidentally, the title of this otherwise near-perfect movie totally bothers me. "Nothing But the Truth" sounds like either a standard gee-aren't-lawyers-sexy courtroom drama or a dumb romantic comedy about Jim Carrey's inability to lie. Oh well, you can't have everything ... like a smashingly good title that's both memorable and captures the gist.)

Great actors in this film, along with Beckinsale (who is seriously just ... too much), including...
Vera Famiga, of the killer blue eyes, who was so radiant as the therapist in "The Departed," as the outed CIA spy

Matt Dillon (of all people!), playing triumphantly against type as the super-smart, sharklike special prosecutor

David Schwimmer (yes, of "Friends" fame), proving he's a subtle and serious actor in a terrifically difficult part as the journalist's not-up-to-the-challenge husband

Alan Alda as the complex defense attorney and First Amendment crusader

Angela Bassett as the editor in chief of the prestigious Washington newspaper whose star reporter gets the biggest story of her career and goes to jail for it

I understand that "Nothing But the Truth" got no theatrical release (or very little) and went straight to DVD, usually a sign that the movie's no good, or deeply flawed. Apparently, distributors thought there would be no appetite among the American movie audience for a serious, taut drama on such topics as freedom of the press and a willingness to go to the wall over principle. Maybe those distributors were right.

Or maybe it was the title.

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