Based on real events — but the film is quick to ensure that we’re aware that it is not aiming to be an accurate representation of them — Nothing but the Truth is a film about a woman and her incorruptible decision to not reveal her primary source for a newspaper article she wrote, revealing a member of the CIA who was undercover at the time (played by Vera Farmiga). Her name is Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), although she’s playing the role of the real life woman, Judith Miller, someone who spent a few months in jail after being found in contempt of court for keeping her source secret.
A similar situation unfolds here. Rachel publishes a story, which becomes a matter of national security, apparently, and is then investigated by a prosecutor named Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon), who is our villain. He informs her that since this is a very important thing, confidentiality is null and void, and that she must reveal her source, who will then be charged with treason. She denies, and like in real life, is imprisoned. I won’t go into what happens from there, but there are moving scenes on all sides of the emotional spectrum.
Supporting roles go to Vera Farmiga as Erica Van Doren, the woman outed by Rachel’s story; David Schwimmer, playing Rachel’s husband who fights his own battles while she is imprisoned; and Alan Alda as Rachel’s prolific lawyer, who gets one monologue so well-written and performed that it gave me patriotic chills — and I’m not even from America. It’s surprising just how good Alda is in the role, which also contains more depth than it probably should have, and I found him very pleasant to watch.
Admittedly, there isn’t much to the story. Not much happens, and characters often spend a lot of time in the same location. Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail; Rachel spends a lot longer than that, and while inside, she’s unable to do a whole lot. She’s steadfast and determined in her decision not to reveal her source’s name, but it feels like at time that this is the only thing driving her forward. Her son, husband, friends, career — they’re all basically ignored in favor of this one decision.
What I would have liked to see was more temptation, more complexity going into her thought process. Show her toying with whether or not keeping the source’s name confidential is worth the turmoil she’s putting on those around her and, of course, herself as well. But Nothing but the Truth rarely ventures into those territories, and I think this is a missed opportunity. Some emotional impact is surely lost when you remove her son from the equation for the majority of the time she’s in jail.
Even though much of the film’s plot is simple and doesn’t do all that much, there are a few points in time where it gets livened up. A couple of plot twists and reveals late in the game leave you with a good final impression, with the film’s final scene bringing the most to the table. The reveal works, doesn’t feel like a cheat, and it’s plausible. It’s pretty much the perfect way to end this movie, and Nothing but the Truth left my mind with a very good impression as a result.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t all about politics. It’s about one woman and the principle that she stands for. While some may call it a political thriller, it features very few politics and is not biased one way or another. I was happy with this, as it manages to make its point without potentially alienating a large portion of its audience. It easily could have fallen into that trap, but instead decides to stay as far away from politics as this subject matter allows.
Now, don’t let the direct-to-DVD label fool you, as this is far better than the releases that studios don’t deem good enough to put in theaters. Nothing but the Truth was planned for a theatrical release, but thanks to financial trouble, the distributor behind it was unable to do that. It was released on DVD as a result, never getting to have the theatrical release it deserved. And it did deserve one; it’s really unfortunate that a lot of people won’t see it as a result of something beyond the film’s control.
The real reason that this is a movie worth seeking out is the actors. Beckinsale has never been given as much respect as she deserves, but she’s in fine form here, giving a determined performance filled with a wide range of emotions. Dillon is suitable as the villain, a man just doing his job. And Vera Farmiga chews the scenery so hard that you can wince a little bit every time she’s on-screen, which is unfortunately not often enough. I’ve already mentioned the brilliance of Alan Alda in the few scenes he gets.
Nothing but the Truth is a very enjoyable film that never should have been released directly to home video. It features strong lead performances, enough drama to satisfy its running time, and a couple of late game reveals that change things up enough to keep the story interesting. It’s a simple film, sure, but it manages to stir emotional responses even though it misses a few opportunities along the way. It’s worth the time it takes to seek out, and I hope that you’ll give it a chance.