There was one thing in particular that actress Kate Beckinsale made clear at the Washington, DC premiere of Rod Lurie's Nothing But The Truth: the movie was "very much" about Rachel Armstrong, the character she had helped create. "This is not the Judith Miller story," Beckinsale insisted.
She's not kidding! Viewers at tonight's screening, sponsored by Capitol File magazine, had mere seconds to reflect on the title card that explained that Nothing But The Truth was inspired by true events before jumping into a cacophony of images that bore no resemblance to true events. Chaos! Gunshots! Venezuelan assassins! Retaliatory strikes! This is not at all how we remembered the story of Judith Miller, Valerie Plame, Robert Novak, and Scooter Libby. No aspens turned and no yellowcake was served.
But upon the Miller-Plame template, writer-director Rod Lurie has built the story of two vibrant women getting ground up in the gears of political intrigue. It's territory Lurie has mined before, as the writer-director of the Joan Allen political drama The Contender and as the executive producer-writer of the Geena Davis-as-President television show Commander In Chief. And it very much is a movie focused on the lives of women -- in this world, husbands are screw-ups, the young men buckle or bray, and the grandfatherly types, while stuffed full of sympathetic wisdom, nevertheless lacerate themselves on their failings.
Very early on, Lurie's Miller and Plame analogues establish themselves as the dynamic characters. But it's the performances of Beckinsale, as reporter-who-won't-reveal-her-sources Rachel Armstrong, and Vera Farmiga, as outed CIA agent Erica Van Doren, that truly lift this story out of a ripped-from-the-headlines rut. Both actresses handle their transformations exceedingly well. Beckinsale's jailed reporter wastes away, but she never lapses into cheap, melodramatic hero poses. And Farmiga is just as excellent. ("Be sure to mention that!" Beckinsale urged on behalf of her absent, and apparently quite pregnant co-star.) Her performence is filled with interesting, slightly off-kilter grace notes that convey the character of an unpredictable, perhaps even dangerous, covert agent.
Pretty soon, we're not staring at those familiar folks from Plamegate anymore. That's critical, because Lurie goes to great length to mine sympathy for both women. (Perhaps too much so. The plot requires a scene from Farmiga that in many ways betrays the strong, cunning character she built.) And that's probably why Beckinsale was so certain that this was not Judith Miller's movie. Asked to characterize the stakes for outside-the-beltway audiences, Beckinsale averred that, to her mind, the movie was about "fundamental freedoms and...rights," so much so that it feels like it's "not an intellectual discussion...there should be a shield law...reporters should have the right to protect their sources." Nevertheless, she felt an exploration of the ethical gray areas and questions was "worth opening up."
One of those questions, of course, is the media ceased to be the "white knights." But baked into Lurie's movie is a plot device that makes it clear that Beckinsale's suffering journalist was absolutely right to defend the "traitor" who exposed Farmiga, if not the story itself. Not to toot my own horn, but I sort of saw the Big Reveal coming a mile away (So can you! Hint: the movie hews strictly to the idea of economy of action.), and when the truth becomes clear the movie comes to an abrupt end. The audience is left to wonder if the revelation flips the scandal script or further impugns journalism.
Ultimately, whether audiences are willing to think through the story past the scripted end will be key to making this movie a success outside of Washington, DC. Of course, since we were in Washington, DC, steps away from the acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre, I asked Beckinsale if she'd had the opportunity to speak to artistic director Michael Kahn about returning to tread the local boards. "That would be fantastic," she said. "I haven't done a play in a long time because I like to be home to put my daughter to bed." Perhaps Kahn would consider an all-matinee run? Change, as they say, is in the air.
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