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Where the Truth Lies (2005)

by on 2012/12/07

Where the Truth Lies (2005)

“When logic and proportion / Have fallen sloppy dead / And the White Knight is talking backwards / And the Red Queen’s off with her head / Remember what the Dormouse said / Feed your head”

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In what threatens to become a regular event, we just spent another week in New York City. Squeezed between culinary tours and shopping trips, we took in the Prairie Home Companion Christmas show. Among its usual assortment of players, we were stunned to discover that guest Kevin Bacon — yes, that Kevin Bacon — could well and truly rock.

I was thus extra excited to tackle my stack of December selections, which featured him in Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies.

Kevin Bacon? Still rocking. This movie? Not so much.

Karen O’Flaherty (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’s Alison Lohman) is an aspiring journalist, working in 1972. She longs to expose the story behind the dissolution of a partnership with which she once had a fleeting, pivotal encounter. The team consisted of Lanny Morris (X-Men: First Class’ Bacon) and Vince Collins (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s Colin Firth), variety entertainers strongly reminiscent of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

As she interviews each of the elder subjects, flashbacks illustrate the narration, flipping back and forth to 1957. Piece-by-sometimes-ill-fitting-piece, a fateful scene is set, culminating in the death of a student maid, Maureen O’Connor (Flight of the Conchords’ Canadian “Australian” Rachel Blanchard).

Whodunit? The callous Lanny? The frustrated Vince? A jealous lover? Or someone else entirely? Though you will eventually see a solution, the journey to it is simultaneously convoluted and over-explained. It lacks that certain elegance commensurate with its setting.

I love Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle at work here. It suggests that observation itself affects the system being observed. Karen goes to extraordinary lengths to coax out the details, but the extent to which she does so compromises them and herself.

It would have been especially amazing if I felt she were cast well. Arguably, this tale is more hers than the entertainers’ and, as such, she should have succeeded as the critical linchpin. Unfortunately, her shallow sprightliness undercuts it all.

I was also disappointed at the sexual politics here. Much is made of orientation, yet I’m not convinced it goes very far beyond decorative red herrings. Again, I was impressed by the potential rather than actual results. Egoyan seems to supply us with a kind of “missing link” between outdated and current portrayals of homosexuality. While there’s violence on display, it’s not without some cause.

From a production standpoint, on the other hand, there’s little to criticize. The look, the sound, the overall feeling is vintage. Retro sets are stocked with retro tech, retro seating, all lit by retro lamps, and populated by convincingly retro people, dressed and made up as if native to their respective decades.

But looks aren’t everything. And they’re not always most of things either, certainly not here. What might have been a period gangster flick crossed with Citizen Kane instead came across as an erotic thriller, and direct to video at that. By the end, I thought, “film unnoir”. Chalk it up as decent, however disappointing . . . Kevin Bacon notwithstanding of course.

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Rated 18A (Canada) / unrated (United States)

107 minutes

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