The term film noir which defined a series of black and white post-World War II films has now become a marketing term to sell a movie’s edge. However when that term is used to describe Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies, it’s an entirely apt description. The convoluted plot, shifting points of view, and doppelgangers seem lifted directly from the classic era of film noir. The film cleverly makes us constantly unsure of what we know and has great fun in completely disorienting the viewer.
Where the Truth Lies centers on the fictional 1950s comedy team of Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth). Lanny does the wacky schtick, while Collins plays the straight man. Their fun loving stage personas only serve to contrast their shady backstage life. Although they do a much publicized 39 hour polio telethon, which is an integral part of the plot, they have business dealings with mobsters and are chronic philanderers. The death of a hotel maid, Maureen O’Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard) in Lanny and Collin’s hotel room becomes the unsolved mystery that drives the film. Fifteen years later the two have broken up and no longer perform. A young writer, Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) has been charged with writing Collin’s biography but she’s eager to seek the truth of O’Flaherty’s death. O’Connor’s investigation into the past gets complicated by her childhood infatuation with the comedy duo. Her personal involvement in solving the mystery simultaneously hampers and helps the search for the truth.
The fun in a film like this comes from trying to sort out all of the shifting points of view and flashbacks into a coherent narrative. Often we never know who’s telling the story or when we’re in the past or the present. There’s also the added touch of casting two actresses of similar appearance in Lohman and Blanchard. Blanchard’s O’Flaherty was also an aspiring journalist so when the look-a-like O’Connor digs up the past, it evokes strong feelings in both Morris and Collins. People or events that come out of the past to influence the present are one of the hallmarks of film noir that the film cleverly employs. In these types of movies, the past is never really past. The only fault I have is with the ending that it too easily raps up the loose ends. Although I must admit I was completely fooled, looking back it was one of the most cliched ways to end a murder mystery, but perhaps that was Egoyan’s point.
Much of the publicity surrounding this film has been centered on its strong sexual content. Atom Egoyan petitioned the MPAA for his film to receive an R rating but was given the much dreaded NC-17. Even after trimming scenes he was still denied the R rating so the film has been released in its unrated form. I applaud Egoyan’s decision to do so because his film is not pornographic which the NC-17 label often implies. The problematic “orgy scene” is an integral part of the story which does show a lot of flesh, but is still less graphic than anything shown late night on some cable stations. Part of the problem may be its depiction of homosexuality, which probably raises more flags. The film doesn’t shy away from sex or nudity but that really shouldn’t be a deterrent.
Bacon is one of those actors that has been around so long that sometimes one forgets he’s not half bad. He infuses his Lanny Morris with the right amount of charm and devilishness that works well for the potboiler plot. We’re never certain of his motives or whether he’s guilty of the murder until the end.
Where the Truth Lies is a dark Hollywood mystery that revels in its 1950s and 1970s settings. The glamorous period set designs and costumes contrast with the film’s dark subject matter.
Although not nearly as good as other retro-noirs like L.A. Confidential it provides enough stylized intrigue to make for an entertaining two hours.
Archived article by Oliver Bundy
Sun Staff Writer