Wednesday 16 December 2020

Movie Review: Where The Truth Lies (2005)

A neo-noir murder mystery set in the world of celebrity decadence, Where The Truth Lies boasts an ambitious plot, a complex structure, and magnificent period sets, but is also beset by muddled perspectives and excessive narration.

The movie unfolds in two time frames. In the late 1950s, the superstar duo of Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) are a top nightclub entertainment act, highly sought after for fund-raising telethons. Their fame affords them the finest luxuries in life and limitless access to drugs, alcohol, and women. Reuben (David Hayman) is Lanny's loyal fixit man, while New Jersey mobster Sally (Maury Chaykin) uses Vince and Lanny to generate publicity for his hotel properties.

In the early 1970s, journalist Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) secures an assignment to interview Vince, now a fading has-been in Los Angeles. Her magazine is willing to pay Vince $1 million for a tell-all about the glory years, as long as he also talks about the mysterious case of Maureen O'Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard), a hotel maid found dead in the New Jersey hotel suite of Vince and Lanny when they were at the height of their fame. While on her assignment Karen coincidentally also meets the still charismatic Lanny, and is drawn into the shroud of sordid secrets surrounding the two men.

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, Where The Truth Lies is classy and glitzy adult-oriented entertainment, wrapping commentary on the trappings of fame around a lascivious unsolved mystery featuring a nude dead woman found in a tub. Never less than gripping, the film demands concentration and rewards it with visual splendour, a gradual peeling of glamour to reveal the darkest rotten core of celebrity culture, and a study of two complex men far removed from their public personas.

The film jumps back and forth between the present and the past, and the flashbacks to the late 1950s feature two key locales in Florida and New Jersey on either side of an epic telethon. The narration is intended to evoke noir fundamentals, but similar to all the time jumping, Egoyan pushes beyond what is necessary. With Lanny writing his own book, Vince providing selective commentary, Karen delving into a world she knows little about and even her friend Bonnie (Sonja Bennett) getting in on the storytelling, multiple perspectives, some of them unreliable, compound the various dates and places to create a proper maze of orientation.

Egoyan calls upon themes of warped reality from Alice In Wonderland and lobsters as representations of both luxury cuisine and bottom-crawling moral bankruptcy to pile on metaphorical layers. And several sex scenes leave little to the imagination, the story of Vince and Lanny intertwined with sexual adventurism and crashing hard against personal and societal limits.

While the audacity is undeniable, so are the film's weaknesses. Karen has a connection with Lanny from a childhood appearance on a telethon, but no one has a connection with the victim Maureen, who remains a blank presence for too long despite a clumsy visit with her still grieving mother. Alison Lohman is miscast and unable to convince or generate the necessary depth, the actress often flattened by her character's baroque prose. And finally after all the elaborate plot and indulgent format machinations, Egoyan somehow arrives at one of the oldest and blandest resolutions in the mystery genre.

But despite the potholes, Where The Truth Lies is refreshingly daring, a modern twist on classic themes of hubris and the dangers lurking behind the curtain of applause.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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