Courtroom dramas are difficult, but films that revolve around one case and take place almost exclusively within that trial are nearly impossible without amazing actors and a case is exceptional.
The Whole Truth doesn’t quite manage either score, but Keanu Reeves gives a surprising performance that will make you wonder why he doesn’t end up in deeper roles. Of course, it may not be quite as surprising to those who saw John Wick, the deceptively clever actioner which saw him lending almost unbelievable layers to a role that could easily have been downright silly.
The shtick in this one is that our lawyer/hero, Ramsey (Reeves), is personally connected to the case, being a long-time friend of the victim, and the alleged murderer, who is also the victim’s son. The victim, Boone (Jim Belushi), was a rich lawyer and general bastard, but circumstances were such that he became something of a mentor to Ramsey during his earliest years as an attorney. Boone’s son, Mike (Gabriel Basso), hasn’t spoken since he was found over his father’s body, which doesn’t make defending him very easy.
Working through the case is at least interesting in terms of the unusual nature of something so open and shut, because Ramsey clearly has to do something, despite how blatantly obvious things are. Even with that disadvantage, he also still has to deal with medical examiners who say things like, “That’s the sort of evidence that’s liable to confuse a jury,” apparently because the story isn’t fun unless the system is rigged, even when there’s no need.
We’re used to watching trials in films that keep us guessing, at least to some degree, but there’s nothing here to guess about, and any suggestion of guilt feels like just so much “reasonable doubt” Ramsey is trying to create in a situation that allows for no doubt.
Much of the film is spent in flashbacks, as we get point after point reiterating that the victim was a true bastard. This obviously exists partially because it isn’t a bad legal play, and then it sets the stage for a certain reveal, but within the film it quickly becomes overkill. You can’t make him more of a bastard than he is after the first 30 minutes or so, and we’re already willing to believe just about anything, but we have to keep watching him be a bastard, and it doesn’t get us anywhere.
When the film tries to focus on Ramsey, and the impossible situation he’s in, it’s captivating, making the first third of the film a surprisingly slick ride. This is especially true as Ramsey tries to deal with the new second chair he didn’t necessarily want, Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Most of the film’s abilities come from this examination of the oddity of the situation, and dealing with a client who won’t help, rather than anything that actually involves the case itself. That means the more we know, the less the film offers.
Between Reeves’ effort to draw you in, and Director Courtney Hunt‘s skill at creating difficult conversations you can believe (see Frozen River, one of its years best), the movie is still a worthy bit of entertainment, but it could have been a lot more.
If court dramas are a particular favorite, there is a lot to like about this one, but the rest of us are left hanging, which there was more attention paid to the characters, and less time spent setting up the big reveal… which ends up sort of boring.
The Whole Truth Clip – We Lose
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