The Whole Truth

For F*** Magazine

THE WHOLE TRUTH 

Director : Courtney Hunt
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Renée Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabriel Basso, Jim Belushi, Jim Klock
Genre : Drama/Courtroom
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual Violence)

the-whole-truth-posterKeanu Reeves played a lawyer in 1997’s Devil’s Advocate, in which he dealt with unexpected supernatural goings-on. In this legal thriller, Reeves in back in the courtroom, sans Al Pacino as Satan. Reeves plays Richard Ramsay, a Louisiana defence attorney. As a favour to his friend Loretta Lassiter (Zellweger), Ramsay defends Loretta’s son Mike (Basso), on trial for murder. Mike is accused of murdering his father Boone (Belushi), in what appears to be an open-and-shut case. However, as the trial progresses, disturbing aspects about who Boone really was come to light. Ramsay’s new colleague, a young lawyer named Janelle (Mbatha-Raw), tries to get to the bottom of an increasingly tricky case.

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The Whole Truth was going to star Daniel Craig, but he abruptly dropped out four days before production was set to begin, with Reeves stepping in for him. We can’t say for sure if The Whole Truth would’ve been better with Craig in the starring role. While the whodunit central to The Whole Truth is mildly intriguing, nothing in the movie reels one in. For all the narrative’s twists and turns, The Whole Truth ends up being dull and generic. One of the pitfalls of a courtroom drama film is that this is a genre that seems more at home on TV than on the big screen. Something like 12 Angry Men doesn’t come along all the often, and it will take more than a run-of-the-mill procedural potboiler to make audiences sit up and take notice. The device of flashbacks told from the point of view of possibly unreliable narrators is a good trick, but one that’s been employed in similar movies before.

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There’s no novelty to The Whole Truth, with all the characters fitting familiar archetypes. There’s trouble in paradise as a wealthy family is thrown into crisis, and as a long-time friend of said family, our hero feels an obligation to sort things out. Director Courtney Hunt, who helmed the gritty yet sensitive Oscar-nominated Frozen River, seems to be going through the motions here. She has directed episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and this could well have been a middling episode of that long-running series. Curiously enough, the screenplay was initially reported to be by veteran screenwriter Nicholas Kazan, but the end credits state that it’s by one “Rafael Jackson”. We couldn’t find any substantial information about Jackson, and Kazan retains executive producer credit, so it’s not unreasonable to speculate that this is a pseudonym. Was Kazan embarrassed to be credited as writing the film?

Reeves has a reputation for being wooden, but he’s found success in the right roles – one needs only look to John Wick for evidence of that. Alas, Reeves’ stilted performance detracts from the film’s potential to be riveting and intense. Ramsay, who spouts lines like “just assume everyone’s screwing everyone else until proven otherwise,” is meant to have a façade of glib confidence. However, there’s a crisis of conscience roiling beneath the surface, as he’s torn between the incriminating, undeniable evidence and helping his friend. Reeves appears unable to play all these notes, and perhaps Craig would’ve brought more swagger to the part, making Ramsay harder to pin down and therefore more entertaining to watch.

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This was Zellweger’s first film after a six-year hiatus, filmed before Bridget Jones’ Baby. She’s the standout performer here, playing a trophy wife who’s vulnerable and lost after her husband’s murder – or is that all an act? Zellweger’s raw, convincing performance means we’re never quite sure one way or another. As the accused teenager, Basso doesn’t get too much to do, since, much to Ramsay’s frustration, Mike chooses to stay silent. When the veil is lifted and we discover what’s going on with Mike, Basso gets his moment to shine. `

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Mbatha-Raw injects the dreary proceedings with much-needed energy, and has no problems coming across as attentive and intelligent. The scene in which Janelle cross-examines a character witness is the film’s strongest. While Belushi is fine as a well-off, none-too-pleasant philanderer, it will be a challenge for most audiences to disassociate him from his high-profile comedic roles, most of which are hapless everymen.

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The Whole Truth’s big twist should be a gut-punch, but it registers more as “oh well, so that’s what happened. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What should I get for dinner?” We won’t go into the spoilerific specifics, but the use of sexual assault in the narrative comes off as a cheap shock tactic. It all adds up to an underwhelming courtroom drama that is neither absorbing nor thrilling, but just sort of sits there.

Summary: Keanu Reeves’ flat performance and a lack of urgency are two of several factors that sink this mediocre courtroom drama.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Judge

For F*** Magazine

THE JUDGE

Director : David Dobkin
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard, Sarah Lancaster, Leighton Meester
Genre : Crime/Drama
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Run time: 141 mins
Remember when after the worst of his personal troubles and before his comeback as a marquee name, Robert Downey Jr. would star in dramas like The Singing Detective, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and Charlie Bartlett (with the occasional The Shaggy Dog because he had to pay the bills)? The Judge, Downey Jr.’s first full-on drama in a while, harks back to those days. He plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot lawyer who reluctantly returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana when his mother dies. He sees his brothers Glen (D’onofrio) and Dale (Strong) again but there’s one reunion he’s truly dreading: that with his estranged father, the titular Judge, Joseph Palmer (Duvall). Hank can’t wait to escape back to Chicago when he learns his father is accused of murder. Hank has to defend his father against prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Thornton) while father and son are at each other’s throats. Hank also takes the opportunity to mend other bridges and rekindle a romance with his high school sweetheart Samantha (Farmiga).

            If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you might find it tonally hard to place. Indeed, this is a movie that has plenty of heavy family drama but begins with a moment of slapstick toilet humour. A character also experiences acute bowel function failure and it’s supposed to be a sad moment but it might be seen as unintentionally funny. It seems director David Dobkin was aiming for “bittersweet”, but misjudges this on several occasions. The screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque piles on the clichés: tempestuous father-son relationship, the prodigal son returning against his will, the adorable little daughter whom our main character hasn’t been the best dad to, a mentally handicapped younger brother and a teen romance from which both parties have never really moved on, all set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It sometimes appears that the writers are aware of the overly-familiar, often sentimental nature of the script, attempting to temper this with wiseacre cynicism. This results in an uneven film that almost lurches from shouting match conflicts to a sappy home video montage set to Bon Iver’s “Holocene”.

There’s one cliché we left out in the above paragraph: that of the protagonist being a glib, sharp-tongued “man of Teflon” lawyer. Robert Downey Jr. attacks the role in his typical charismatic, entertaining fashion. He once described his take on Tony Stark as “a likeable asshole” and that’s a character type he excels at playing. Schenk and Dubuque have written lots of snarky, snappy dialogue for the Hank Palmer character, and lines like “I’ll extract the truth from your ass like tree sap” just sound great when they fly off Downey Jr.’s tongue. It’s nothing particularly risky for him but he’s far from sleepwalking through this one either. The big draw is seeing the two Roberts play against each other and Duvall once again proves why he’s considered a living legend. Judge Joseph Palmer is a proud, stern man who has suffered a personal loss and conceals his vulnerabilities, someone who has spent years in the courtroom but suddenly finds himself on the other side, standing trial. Duvall is able to cut through the overly-calculated moments of tenderness to deliver an affecting, thoughtful performance.

            While the film is squarely Downey Jr.’s and Duvall’s to carry, the supporting cast is generally decent too and Vincent D’onofrio’s role in this movie means that Iron Man and the soon-to-be-Kingpin are brothers. Farmiga, blonde, sporting a tattoo and pretty much unrecognisable, is convincing as the diner proprietor who finds herself falling for her high school sweetheart while still being very much wise to his ways. Dax Shepard plays the fumbling, earnest small-town lawyer/antique shop owner a little too broad and Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the mentally-challenged Dale is cringe-inducing, though this is like due more to the way the character is written as the awkward comic relief than his actual performance.

            In addition to the performances, the cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s regular Director of Photography, is praiseworthy. With the way the film is lit and shot, Kamiński conveys the combination of small-town home and hearth with the feeling of feeling trapped in a place with too many bad memories associated with it. When the film and its cast was announced, there were murmurs of its awards potential, but this one is very unlikely to stand against the other films of the upcoming awards season. Director Dobkin, known for comedies like Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, is at least a little out of his depth dealing with the family dysfunction and the courtroom drama in The Judge. However, thanks to the strong lead turns from Downey Jr. and Duvall, this is worth a look.
Summary: It’s unsubtle, cliché-ridden and slightly too long, but The Judge boasts the memorable onscreen father-son pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


The Trials of Cate McCall

For F*** Magazine

THE TRIALS OF CATE MCCALL 

Director : Karen Moncrieff
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, James Cromwell, David Lyons, Clancy Brown, Mark Pellegrino, Taye Diggs, Isaiah Washington, Dale Dickey, Kathy Baker
Genre : Drama
Opens : 19 June 2014
Rating : NC16 – Some Coarse Language / 93 mins
It’s a case of the almost-Danza with Kate as Cate. Beckinsale plays Cate McCall, a high-flying L.A. legal eagle whose promising career is threatened by alcoholism and a custody battle, ex-husband Josh (Lyons) planning on moving to Seattle with their young daughter Augie (Ava Kolker). Cate is assigned to defend Lacey Stubbs (Anissimova), a young woman put on death row who claims that she was wrongly accused of first degree murder. With her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Bridges (Nolte) by her side, Cate takes on what many deem an impossible case. Among the obstacles that stand in her way are possibly-crooked police detective Welch (Pellegrino), womanising judge Sumpter (Cromwell), a man she prosecuted and who was proven innocent and released from jail (Washington) plus the army of protestors camped outside the courthouse, convinced of Lacey’s guilt.


            The thought running through this reviewer’s mind for the duration of this film was “gee, this looks like it belongs on TV”. It turns out that The Trials of Cate McCall was not granted a U.S. or U.K. theatrical run, bypassing a video release and airing on the Lifetime Channel as a movie of the week, a death knell if ever there was one. As a courtroom drama, The Trials of Cate McCall is pretty much par for the course, offering nothing one wouldn’t find in any law procedural television show. The central mystery is moderately interesting rather than downright riveting; several plot developments questionable if not preposterous. More than a handful of artistic license is taken and law students will be crying “objection!” but for the layperson, it all makes just enough sense.


            In some circles, Kate Beckinsale is thought of as merely a pretty face and little else, but the truth is that she is a capable actress and makes for a believable lawyer here, somewhat reminiscent of her turn in the under-seen Nothing but the Truth. She projects confidence and brokenness equally well and makes the title character into someone the audience does very much want to see succeed. We see Cate dishevelled and crying but also taking control of the courtroom and it’s certainly not a bad performance from Beckinsale. Nick Nolte has pretty much been out of it for the last 20 years but still has gotten steady work as a dependable supporting player and, as his Academy Award nomination for Warrior proves, can still do good work. Not too much is required of him in The Trials of Cate McCall but he’s got the “gruff but kind” mentor figure thing down pat. James Cromwell makes full use of his hawkish mien as Justice Sumpter; he may be best remembered for playing a kindly farmer in Babe but prepare to throw up in your mouth a little when he pervs on Kate Beckinsale. Who’s the pig now?

            The Trials of Cate McCall features a capable Kate Beckinsale leading the charge but it really is nothing that hasn’t been done before, rote rather than sensational. The need for an emotional subplot involving Cate’s inability to connect with her young daughter is there to show how Cate struggles with her demanding job and with being a mother (hence the plural “trials” in the title), but it seems unnecessary at times. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff, like her lead actress, is competent, but every so often we get lines like “I’m f**king good at what I do and I intend to win this!” It’s bland, but not quite as ham-fisted a mess as it could’ve been.
Summary:  Kate Beckinsale is a strong lead and the supporting cast of somewhat-familiar faces backs her up well, but that’s not enough to pull this also-rans courtroom drama up from the doldrums.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong