Ripped from yesterday’s headlines—or, perhaps, given the scenario’s emphasis on motherhood, from history’s womb—Nothing but the Truth is Rod Lurie’s highly selective take on the case of New York Times journalist Judith Miller, jailed in 2005 for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the government source who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Lurie, a one-time entertainment reporter who writes as well as directs, has simplified the Miller affair by eliminating its political context. Rather than Iraq and the nonexistent WMDs that Miller helped persuade the world were an imminent danger, the trigger is a would-be presidential assassination that, blamed on Venezuela, precipitates a U.S. attack on Caracas. After secret agent Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) apparently leaks the information that the Venezuelan connection is bogus, journalist Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) scoops the world by identifying Van Doren as a spook.
Adding to the fun, both women are soccer moms, whose kids attend the same D.C. school. The actresses are otherwise well-matched—sanctimonious Beckinsale is coltish yet stubborn; faintly ironic Farmiga tough but girlish. (“You are an unpatriotic little cunt!” the spy tells the newshound.) Both have problematic spouses, although only Armstrong’s, a deadbeat novelist (David Schwimmer), gets screen time. The pressure on the women mounts as Armstrong is menaced by the FBI and served a midnight subpoena, while Van Doren is threatened by her CIA handlers (and worse).
The sisterly rivalry is cut short by a big, fat rush to judgment. Enter a fake-courtly special prosecutor (Matt Dillon, channeling Fred Thompson) and a humorously fashion-conscious über-lawyer (Alan Alda). Once Armstrong lands in stir, Nothing but the Truth becomes a version of The Big Doll House. (In a piquant touch, Armstrong learns about her Pulitzer nomination in the prison yard—and is then immediately searched and humiliated by the screws.) Armstrong’s lawyer tells her that she’s suffering because people hate the press, but she knows (as we do) that she’s a victim of sexism. People are outraged that she seems to have sacrificed her child over a principle.
Lurie isn’t Larry Cohen, let alone Sam Fuller, but give him points for working the same tradition of engagé tabloid filmmaking. Nothing here is as crazy as Lurie’s 2000 political thriller, The Contender, in which Joan Allen is nominated for vice president, her political enemies sagely observing that “the one thing that the American people cannot stomach is a vice president with a mouth full of cock.” But, in the spirit of its title, Nothing but the Truth pivots on a plot twist that’s both good and fair. And kudos to the ever-earnest Beckinsale for surviving a prison brawl as splatterific as anything Mickey Rourke had to endure in The Wrestler.