Atom Egoyan: Where The Truth Lies (2005) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Atom Egoyan: Where The Truth Lies (2005)

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Andrew COMMENTARYI'm endlessly fascinated by the way that we push our celebrities to behave in a certain way.  Take the recent death of Ryan Dunn.  His life was a testament to the way we try and push the limits of human endurance to the absolute extreme and he embodied this in a way few other celebrity personalities have.

Then he died in a car accident going more than 140 mph while hopped up a decent selection of alcohol and we're all surprised that it happened.  Didn't we push him to this extreme?  Why else would would we celebrate that kind of lifestyle than to hope that he would keep taking it farther and farther into old age?  I can't partake in that kind of celebration, I've always found the Jackass stunts to be a bit too far (which isn't to say I, and others, don't appreciate the way people push our bodies to the limit).

We've been pushing our celebrities since the beginning.  Marilyn Monroe, an incredibly intelligent actress, was pushed into a specific niche of Hollywood that has forever labeled her "the ultimate dumb blonde".  Our earliest noir heroes, Bogart chief amongst them, were expected to portray the same hard driven lifestyle outside of the screen.

What's admirable about Where The Truth Lies is its understanding of how we expect our celebrities to engage in a certain lifestyle and then concoct fictions to accompany those lives.  Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth both portray this idea to the extreme as a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis fictional construct that begins its life in the 50's, mercifully ends, and then whose memory is resurrected in the 70's to play to a bored populace.

Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon are able to suggest so much about their past and history during their scenes together that it's a shame the rest of the movie doesn't live up to that.

Nobody wanted to think of Dean Martin as a lonely guy who was a playboy to satisfy base urges and forgoing any sort of real satisfaction.  Where's the fun in that?  Also, nobody wanted to think of Jerry Lewis as a closeted bisexual scared of his own feelings because, c'mon, what kind of fun would that be?  Instead we shoved the both of them into conveniently labeled boxes of "suave" and "humorous" then expected them to dole out the charm and funny any time it was required.

Is it any wonder that these personalities drank so much?

Where The Truth Lies is one of Egoyan's unusual films.  The subject matter, cross-cutting chronologies delving into repressed delving into repressed desire, isn't exactly strange as far as topics are concerned.  What's unusual is the high budget affair lavished on the production, you've got stars like Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth center stage, a hot up and coming actress in another lead with Alison Lohman,  and a wide American release (about 10 years too late, but at least someone finally caught wind with Egoyan's talent).

The results are a little less than satisfactory, and part of that has to do with Lohman's performance as a cub reporter tasked with figuring out what happened to the singing/performing duo of Lanny (Bacon) and Vince (Firth).  When the film opens, they've been broken up for over 15 years.  The body of a young woman, Maureen (Rachel Blanchard), was found in their bathtub before they were set to perform at a 39-hour telethon.  Since then they're hardly spoken, maintaining a separate sphere of existence and only keeping public contact to the most fleeting portions.  Karen (Lohman) is an aspiring reporter who wants to find out what happened with the two of them, using a chance encounter with Lanny to springboard her investigation.

Another misstep, Egoyan goes so far to deny us the glimpse of dead bodies in his films. It fits along with the lurid impulses, but I still wish the body was kept off-screen.

And that, as they say, is that.  Egoyan's usual twisting timeline is streamlined to two periods, the moments leading up to the discovery of Maureen's body and the time 15 years afterward that brings the duo back together.  As such there's less of an opportunity for him to weave an enigmatic web.  It's pretty clear early on that neither Lanny or Vince is responsible for Maureen's death, partly since they've got their own emotional baggage to deal with, but the film must play on for another hour before we find the culprit.

However, much like in The Sweet Hereafter or Exotica, it's less important who is responsible than how the characters deal with the loss.  But in Where The Truth Lies, we're not dealing with the common person, we're dealing with popular stars that have been in the spotlight their whole life.  As such Egoyan has some insight into how they must hide themselves (traipsing back into his own identity issues dealt with previously), but there's not as much empathy on display as in his greater works.

Instead we're kept at a curious distance from the action.  Even with his more "heady" films such as Family Viewing or Speaking Parts, there was the sense that Egoyan had more of a personal investment in the way the characters lives played out.  Instead it's all pageantry in Where The Truth Lies and no one ever really comes out as more than their persona except when they're engaged in sex.  Granted, the same charge could be leveled against those films I just mentioned, but there was a driving force beyond the characters in those earlier films that's not present here.

This isn't to say that the cast doesn't deliver their A-game.  As a long time fan of both Firth and Bacon it was interesting to see them play off each other in hot/cool measures.  A special note must be given to Firth, who internalizes the rage and helplessness of his characters private bisexuality so much that it becomes a partial template for his eventual performance in the stellar A Single Man.  As for Bacon, he let's his alpha-male nature shine on as the act it is, grateful for the passing touch of someone as superficially connected as Lohman's character, Karen.

As effective the lurid content is in Egoyan's hands, the acting quality between Firth and Lohman couldn't be helped.

Now I must get to part of why the film doesn't work.  Alison Lohman is pretty bad in this film.  Firth and Bacon are able to tap into their character's private sides and show how horrible it is that they've had to conceal themselves for so long.  Lohman, in contrast, is a leftover from the 50's in the worst sense.  She's a pluck reporter with no pulsing drive, and though the reasons for her character's involvement are soon clear, she's unable to tap into the murky depths that Firth and Bacon can.  Normally, this might not be so bad, but given her direct connection to the characters (revealed much earlier on than anticipated) it feels a bit strange that she's not a darker spirit like the two of them.

Egoyan's presentation, for once, leaves something to be desired as well.  He does such a remarkable job recalling the false airs of the 50's with his soft focus and bright lights that the film becomes difficult to look at in times.  His frankness with the sexual matter is still appreciated, but there is one moment where things collapse into an unfortunately funny sexual escapade (cunnilingus on Karen) that it's not as indicative of the strange sexual impulses she and Vince have been harboring all these years.  When "Alice" (of the Wonderland persuasion) comes up from Karen's vagina with fluids on her chin it's not the result of childhood fantasies evolving into adult desires (as intended), but a silly moment where it looks like "Alice" could have used a towel before she delivered her lines.

It's, for me, Egoyan's least successful film.  I enjoy the observations of how Lanny and Vince have to lock their true nature's inside to satiate the public.  But Lohman's performance and overall presentation keep me from connecting completely to the intellectual observations of the film, or the lurid subtext of the source material.  I could see a director like John McNaughton playing the material one way or the other to perfection.  But Egoyan is too in love with the lurid and heady aspects of desire for him to be a good director for the material.  His stumbles are very few, so few that this is the only one, but Where The Truth Lies is not a successful Egoyan piece - though not for lack of trying.

Next week, hopefully and finally, is the Bob Hoskins starring Felicia's Journey - part of Egoyan's masterpiece trilogy.  See you then!

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Where The Truth Lies (2005)

Screenplay and direction by Atom Egoyan.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and Alison Lohman.

Egoyan with text

Posted by Andrew

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