D: Courtney Hunt / 93m
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Renée Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabriel Basso, Jim Belushi, Jim Klock, Ritchie Montgomery, Christopher Berry, Nicole Barré, Sean Bridgers, Mattie Liptak
In a small Louisiana town, young Mike Lassiter (Basso) is arrested for the murder of his father, Boone (Belushi). Having confessed to the crime, Mike says nothing more, even to his lawyer, Richard Ramsey (Reeves). Obviously this makes it hard for Ramsey to mount a defence, but as a friend of the family, and someone that Boone helped become a lawyer, he has inside knowledge about Boone that the jury won’t be aware of. With his client staying quiet, Ramsey’s only choice is to malign Boone’s reputation as a good father to Mike and loving husband to Loretta (Zellweger).
As the trial begins, Ramsey is joined by a junior lawyer, Janelle Brady (Mbatha-Raw). Together they begin to piece together a defence based on Boone’s abusive behaviour towards Mike and Loretta, while the prosecution – led by Leblanc (Klock) – reinforces the details surrounding the murder and Mike’s subsequent confession. The case seems hopeless until Ramsey calls Loretta to the witness stand, where she confirms just how abusive her husband could be. But as the trial continues, Janelle becomes suspicious about what might have really happened; she comes to believe that Mike is taking the fall for his mother. There’s no evidence to support this, however, and when Mike takes the stand and delivers a bombshell that no one could have prepared for, his testimony takes the trial in a direction that no one could have prepared for either.
With an introductory voice over by Reeves that sets the tone for the whole movie (he sounds bored and uninterested), The Whole Truth is one of those courtroom dramas where secrets are revealed every so often in an effort to keep the audience guessing as to what’s happened, or is happening, and which should add up to a last-minute revelation that will have said audience saying to themselves, “Wow! I never saw that coming!” Except, in reality, The Whole Truth opts for secrets that have no impact on the movie’s ending, and which are pretty much forgotten about once they’ve been revealed.
You don’t have to have seen hundreds of courtroom dramas to know that ninety-nine per cent of the time, if the defendant has confessed to the crime (but isn’t saying why they did it), then the chances of them actually being guilty are greatly reduced. And while it would be unfair to reveal if this is the case here, let’s just say that there is a formula here that’s being adhered to, and said formula shouldn’t spring too many surprises on anyone familiar with the genre. And thanks to screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (known here as Raphael Jackson, and perhaps wisely), the movie plods along from one unexciting revelation to another in a dour effort to appear exciting. It’s all so sloppily written that, from Ramsey’s “knowing” voice over to both his and Leblanc’s inability to cross-examine witnesses, The Whole Truth acts more as an educational movie about how not to make a courtroom drama than the effective thriller it wants to be.
Kazan’s script is one of the main offenders, but it’s not alone in handicapping the movie at every turn. Since coming to people’s attention with her well-received debut, Frozen River (2008), director Courtney Hunt has only worked on five TV episodes before taking on the challenge of molding this movie into something that isn’t the cinematic definition of “generic”. That she never gets to grips with the material, and films everything in a bland, TV-movie-of-the-week style, is evident throughout, and the look of the movie – all washed-out and looking as if bright colours were a no-no – further undermines any attempts the movie might make to stand out from the crowd. It’s as if cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin was instructed not to make the movie look attractive.
And then, somewhat inevitably, there’s the cast. Keanu Reeves has the kind of career that fluctuates between godawful and cautiously optimistic with almost absurd regularity. John Wick (2014) was a reminder that when he’s asked to play taciturn and given minimal dialogue, he’s playing to his strengths as an actor. But then he also appears in movies such as Man of Tai Chi (2013 – and which he directed), and Knock Knock (2015), and you’re reminded that he’s only good with certain material. Here he struggles as usual with both his character and his character’s dialogue, with his occasional voice overs further underscoring how often he looks and sounds removed from the movies he makes. He makes for an unconvincing trial lawyer as well, and The Whole Truth teeters on the edge of disaster every time Ramsey gets up to question a witness.
Making her return to acting after a six-year hiatus, Renée Zellweger is, as many people have already pointed out, hard to recognise as Loretta. Even when she speaks you could still be forgiven for thinking she’s someone else, and this proves to be something of a distraction whenever she’s on screen. Why she picked this movie to make her comeback is a mystery that’s more intriguing than the central mystery around who killed Boone, and though she has second billing, Loretta is more of a supporting role than a lead. She’s not asked to do too much, and when Loretta takes the stand, Zellweger treats us to a glimpse of what she’s capable of, but otherwise it’s a performance that dozens of other actresses could have given. Mbatha-Raw is underused as well, her character the inexperienced, somewhat naïve ingenue who gets her one chance to shine in court before being relegated back to the sidelines.
With the performances unable to lift the movie out of its self-imposed narrative doldrums, and Hunt apparently unable to make much out of the material, The Whole Truth proves to be hugely disappointing, and resoundingly flat. There’s no impetus, no energy in the courtroom scenes, and by the end it’s difficult to care who did what, why or how. Courtroom dramas succeed or fail on the quality of the secrets that are revealed during a trial, and the odds against the defence lawyer winning, but here there’s so much apathy on display that any impact is curtailed before any such secrets are fully revealed. This may be a courtroom drama per se, but someone really should have pointed out that the drama was, in legal terms, misrepresented.
Rating: 4/10 – originally set to star Daniel Craig as Ramsey, The Whole Truth is a movie that wouldn’t have turned out any better even if he hadn’t dropped out just days before production was due to begin; clumsy and dull, the movie is like drudge work for the eyes and ears, and never once feels like it’s going to step up a gear and become even slightly interesting.