Kevin Bacon as Lanny Morris
Colin Firth as Vince Collins
Alison Lohman as Karen O’Connor
Rachel Blanchard as Maureen O’Flaherty
David Hayman as Reuben
Sonja Bennett as Bonnie Trout
Kathryn Winslow as Coreen
Kristin Adams as Alice
Maurey Chaykin as Sally SanMarco
Deborah Grover as Mrs. O’Flaherty
Beau Starr as Jack Scaglia
Atom Egoyan once again proves his cinematic mastery with an evocative and sexy murder mystery that delves deep into the debauchery of show business. It’s on par with his finest work.
It’s 1972 and cub reporter Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) has been hired to write a book by entertainer Vince Collins (Colin Firth). A lifelong fan, she’s more interested in finding out why he broke up with his comedy partner Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) after a dead housekeeper named Maureen turned up dead in the duo’s hotel room bathtub.
The latest film from Canadian wunderkind Atom Egoyan may be his accessible film thanks to the fairly straight-ahead murder mystery at its core. Based on the novel of the same name by Rupert Holmes, someone all too familiar with the seedier side of the entertainment industry, the film’s title alone is a clever oxymoronhow can the truth lie?but it also lays out exactly what to expect from the movie.
The story begins in the late ’50s with a three-day polio telethon being hosted by the beloved comedy duo of Lanny Morris and Vince Collins. Lanny is the buffoon, always hamming it up and hitting on the ladies, while Vince tries to add class to the act, keeping Lanny in line with his cool and collected British demeanor. Little do we know that this will be the last time the duo will ever appear onstage together.
Fifteen years later, a young female reporter has been hired by Vince to interview him for a tell-all book, but even before starting, she inadvertently meets his ex-partner Lanny on a plane. She gives him a false name, and when they end up going out on a date, one thing leads to another. When she wakes up alone, Karen realizes that she may have compromised the integrity of her work as a journalist. Undeterred, she begins interviewing Vince, getting deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding the duo’s break-up.
The film is made up of two concurrent storylines: Karen’s ’70s investigation, interacting separately with Lanny and Vince, and the flashbacks to the duo’s glory days at the height of their career. Egoyan uses the far-too-common “Rashomon” technique to go back and forth, revealing bits of the backstory depending on whose point of view we’re hearing. The most revealing moments come from chapters of Lanny’s own autobiography, which mysteriously turn up on Karen’s doorstep, just a part of what makes this multi-layered mystery so riveting, because you’re never sure whose truth is the real one.
As smart and in control Karen tries to be, she’s often out of her depth when dealing with the likes of Lanny and Vince, who are very different off-stage than when they are when performing. Once Karen starts digging deeper, it doesn’t take long for her to be dragged into their world of drugs and debauchery. The film’s best moments contrast the facades created by both entertainers and reporters as they try to play the game of masking secrets and hiding the truth.
The infamously controversial ménage a trois sequence is pivotal to the story, but I can’t say much about it without giving too much away. Needless to say, it’s the film’s climax where all pretenses are finally dropped, and we learn the real truth. Everything after that is a bit of an anti-climax–no pun intended–and things aren’t quite as interesting once it returns to the Hitchcockian murder mystery, because we would rather know more about the dynamics between Lanny and Vince. The scenes that diverge away from this relationship, like when Karen goes to talk with Maureen’s mother, just don’t work as well.
The performances by Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, who are mainly onscreen together during the ’50s segments, are on a par with their best work. Besides their ability to recreate the vaudeville schtick of the era, the emotion they bring to the portrayal of the same men during the twilight of their careers is impressive. Their most powerful moments come when they lose control, allowing us to see their true selves. Even though they’re actors playing celebrities, it must have been a real challenge to portray the duality of these complex men, something that few other actors could have pulled off.
On the other hand, it’s hard to take Alison Lohman seriously in her very adult role as a seasoned reporter because her face makes her look so young. The fact that she could play herself fifteen years earlier should have made it obvious that she wasn’t the right person for the part, and she’s often the weak link in the scenes with the stronger actors. She also does very little to make the audience root for her, which isn’t good, since she is supposed to be the protagonist.
Spending most of the film dead and naked, Rachel Blanchard does better with her few speaking scenes. Although we spend most of the film presuming her to be an innocent victim of Lanny and Vince’s sleezy lifestyle, she’s hiding her true nature just like everyone else, something that proves to be her undoing. As far as the others, David Hayman gives a rather bland reading as Reuben, Lanny’s loyal valet who plays a large part in the story, and Maury Chaykin is funny as the Jersey mobster who finances the duo’s scandalous lifestyle.
Egoyan has to get most of the credit for the film’s strength, as he mixes equal parts glamour, grime, erotica and suspense into a tight script that rarely lets up. Much of it also can be credited to his masterful eye for detail, especially in the production design, sets and costume that make every scene a joy to watch. The film’s soundtrack is equally marvelous, mixing various musical styles with a lush score that would do Bernard Hermann proud. The diverse and ambient music is often so subtle, that it plays through even the dialogue heavy scenes to add to the overall tone and mood.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of a good Hitchcock murder mystery, than Where the Truth Lies should be right up your alley. Egoyan’s unique sensibilities keep it from being a direct pastiche, but it’s also a solid look at a specific time in the entertainment industry with all of its grit and glamour.
Where the Truth Lies opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.