Keanu and Renee Need to Know THE WHOLE TRUTH

Back in 2008, the telling drama Frozen River was the indie darling of the year and its writer/director Courtney Hunt was instantly hailed as one of the freshest female voices in independent cinema as she collected endless amounts of awards and praise (as well as an Original Screenplay Oscar nod) for her work. Eight years later, the director’s long-awaited follow-up has arrived in the form of the legal mystery The Whole Truth. Collaborating with screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (the man responsible for such solid efforts as Reversal of Fortune and Fallen), Hunt’s sophomore effort is a curious one; a crime procedural which, although lacking the depth and poetry of her debut, manages to be a small, unassuming film that allows for a focus on plot and character, rather than grandness.

In The Whole Truth, Louisiana lawyer Ramsey (Keanu Reeves) is called in by the wealthy Loretta (Renee Zellweger) to defend her teenage son Mike (Gabriel Basso) when he is accused of murdering his wealthy, yet despicable father Boone (Jim Belushi). Armed with his inexperienced but knowledgeable assistant Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Ramsey is determined to defend his client to the death, no matter what the truth may be.

Its easy to see The Whole Truth existing as a film in the 40s. The movie is seeped in the world of noir in a number of ways. There’s the small town setting, the decidedly anti-hero main character, the sort of girl Friday sidekick, the femme fatale and the ongoing narration which does so much for the proceedings in terms of intrigue. Thankfully, Hunt and Kazan’s talents doesn’t make any aspect of the film feel dated, but rather universal. It’s a feeling that extends to the many lively courtroom scenes, which makes The Whole Truth a very worthwhile legal drama for lovers of such stories to sink their teeth into. What makes this aspect of the film so interesting is the fact that Ramsey’s client refuses to speak, even to his own attorney, making the task of getting him off anything but easy. In many ways, Ramsay is like an adventurer going into the forest without a map.

By far, the most interesting element of the film however is the way it plays with the concept of truth. All of the central characters in the film seems to be manipulating the truth in one way or another for various reasons. This is especially true of the witnesses on the stand whose testimonies run the gamut from containing slight embellishments to flat out lies. The makers are also playing with the truth in terms of the way the characters are drawn with endless amounts of grey and especially in how the film itself is structured with its many contrasting and conflicting flashback sequences. The beauty of The Whole Truth is a film where everyone is lying to each other and it’s what makes it work.

Reeves’ performance here is an odd one. There are moments in which he succeeds in establishing his character, yet others in which he falters when he doesn’t know what to do with him. Belushi is horribly miscast and tends to bring down the proceedings a bit, tearing away at the film’s overall credibility. Raw meanwhile, is clocking in time on her way to what is continuously becoming a promising career and Basso does what he can with what ends up being the film’s most deceptively underwritten role. Its perhaps the effective Zellweger who succeeds the most out of everyone in the way she slowly and methodically reveals the different layers to her character’s various motives.

The Whole Truth is not without problems. The turns in the sometimes-rushed plot could be more plentiful and the overall tone could admittedly could be more exciting at times. It also doesn’t help that Ramsey doesn’t make himself the easiest character to sympathize with or that the film’s final big reveal comes out of nowhere. Nevertheless, The Whole Truth is the kind of “what really happened?” courtroom thriller that rarely comes along anymore. With the genre itself something of a dying breed these days, its makes it easier to forgive most of the flaws and simply take it as it is.

Get it at Amazon:
The Whole Truth – [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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