Truth has always been at the center of Atom Egoyan's films. Whether dealing with personal demons, a large scale genocide or most recently a Hollywood whodunit decked out in the trappings of film noir, Egoyan has wrestled with the concept of truth in its many and varied manifestations. The truth of a memory is distilled and distorted by our reactions and coping mechanisms a single event can be interpreted in myriad variations by the people involved just as the truth of an identity is shaped and staged differently in public and private personas, and there's no better example than Hollywood.
'Where the Truth Lies' takes us into 1950s Hollywood, where entertainers were kings and privacy was still sacred, and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) were the hottest act in the country. Firth has a knack for playing suave with a secret while keeping the utmost control and Bacon is a master of subtle menace, the surface charmer with a heart of lead, and they're a perfect fit for the entertainers. Vince was the British cool to Lanny's American crass and with a mobster (Maury Chaykin) in their corner and Lanny's valet Reuben (David Hayman) to clean up their messes, the duo had all the angles covered until a pretty young thing turns up dead in the bathtub of their hotel suite. The pair escaped prosecution with their airtight alibis but never work together again.
Fifteen years later, the case is cold but the controversy lives on, and ambitious journalist Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) is determined to unearth the secret to the scandal that split her childhood heroes. She uses her brains and beauty Lohman runs between sincere, sultry and serious without missing a beat to get into Vince and Lanny's lives, trying to sort fact from fiction as the different versions of truth and identity Karen's subjects' and her own intertwine and contradict. The film noir genre is the perfect place to showcase truth refracted through the prism of perception and the toll it takes when one is finally forced to reconcile the disparities, but because the story is about the very twists and turns that comprise it, Egoyan often gets bogged down in the details and cuts meditation in favor of exposition.
At his best, Egoyan handles his themes with a subtle lyricism that poses complex questions rather than giving simple answers, and that's precisely why his utter failure to do so in 'Where the Truth Lies' the type of story that's perfectly suited to Egoyan's style and thematic preferences is so frustrating. What could have been a synthesis of the ideas and concepts Egoyan has spent the bulk of his cinematic career exploring much like what fellow Canadian David Cronenberg accomplished with his recent masterpiece 'A History of Violence' turns out to be just the opposite, the type of film that stays in the shallow end rather than delving into the deeper questions.
Instead off the deft sleight of hand or ethereal tone that Egoyan so often uses to turn mysteries into explorations of the human psyche, 'Where the Truth Lies' is comparatively a jumbled mess of heavy-handed direction and superfluous voice-overs. Egoyan used to trust his audience's ability to grasp or at least appreciate the concepts his films wrestled with, but this time he doesn't just provide the answers, but insists on bashing us over the head with them, wrapping up the film with the type of tidy recap and summary that's as insulting to our intelligence as it is awkward and overused.
This isn't to say that 'Where the Truth Lies' is a bad film disappointing is more apt, especially given that Rupert Holmes' acclaimed bestseller is the type of source material that's so well suited to Egoyan's style and thematic conceits it seems as if it was tailored specifically for him. Along with the ambiguity that results when truth is tempered by human perception and the schism between reality and appearance especially when it comes to celebrity scandals a thread of insidious sexuality weaves its way through nearly everything in the film.
It's the impetus for most of the action as well as the action itself, in many cases and one of the few areas that Egoyan's style shines through. Sex seen through his lens is as much a character revelation as an action, and in one particularly stunning scene, Egoyan and longtime cinematographer Paul Sarossy distort mental and visual imagery in a drugged out sexcapade complete with an Alice character that blurs the lines between identity, reality and fantasy and forces Karen to finally dive into the rabbit hole. The scene embodies everything that makes an Egoyan film great if only the same could be said for the rest of the film.
Where The Truth Lies is unrated and will be released October 14 in New York and Los Angeles.