Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dull Legal Drama: The Whole Truth Sinks!

The Good: Decent-enough performances, Sense of realism
The Bad: Poor writing, Characters are flat for the bulk of the film, Oppressive mood (dull!), Voiceovers
The Basics: The Whole Truth is a legal drama that is horrifying for its accuracy and dullness; not an entertaining or at all gripping film.

I've reached that interesting point in life where the a-list actors of my childhood are unable to successfully open blockbuster films. Indeed, twenty years ago, a film starring Renee Zellweger and Keanu Reeves would have been a major cinematic event in the United States. Now, however, the pair is headlining a film that is getting virtually no press, The Whole Truth.

The Whole Truth is a legal drama, which focuses on a murder trial where the defense attorney seems to have everything stacked against him. And, given how specific The Whole Truth is, it is somewhat unsurprising that the film is not getting a lot of attention. Just as Spotlight (reviewed here!) occasionally became mired in the process story - the details of investigative journalism - The Whole Truth is very much a legal process story that explores how two people build a defense on the fly from the evidence they have available to them.

Richard Ramsay is the defense attorney for Michael Lassiter, a young man who Ramsay has known his entire life. Mike is accused of killing Boone Lassiter, the seventeen year-old having stabbed his father in the heart. Tried in Louisiana, Michael is being tried as an adult and Ramsay quickly discovers just how hard it will be to exonerate Michael. Because Mike has not spoken to Ramsay, he has no real defense for his client and when he is joined by outside counsel, he works to turn around the case.

After prosecution witness after prosecution witness buries Michael, Ramsay works to unearth the truth to keep his client out of prison. Ramsay and Janelle begin to bond while looking for evidence after Ramsay reveals his strategy to make Mike look like an underdog and turn the jury in his favor. He is spooked when Michael demands to testify and Ramsay struggles to keep him out of prison.

The Whole Truth is a stiflingly dull legal drama, which is very much concerned with procedure and some sense of realism, as opposed to working to entertain the audience. The film spends time discussing jury selection, ethnic bias, and inconsistencies between recorded statements and testimony in court. While Mike doodles through the court case, Janelle tries to figure out what actually happened between Mike and his father.

Like many legal dramas, The Whole Truth is dominated by scenes set in the court room. To keep it visually interesting and to fill in the narrative gaps, testimony from witnesses leads to flashbacks. The flashbacks illustrate various events that supposedly motivated Michael to kill his father and piece together what actually happened the day Boone Lassiter was killed. The flashbacks are paired with tedious voice-overs that do little to expand the story or satisfactorily flesh out the characters involved.

The Whole Truth mark's Renee Zellweger's first top-billed performance on the big screen in six years and her role is largely a supporting role. Loretta is the mother of Mike, widow of Boone and Zellweger is virtually unrecognizable in the part. Zellweger plays the role of an battered spouse and object of a teenager's desire and she plays both well, though the part is hardly her most extraordinary. Zellweger does fine, but the character is pretty bland, forcing her to play Loretta as very reserved.

The Whole Truth features some truly terrible lines. The writing in the film is awful in the third act. The scene between Ramsay and Janelle in their war room after Mike testifies is a mess of logical faults and ridiculous emotional moments; it sinks the film's climax.

In similar fashion, Keanu Reeves plays a shockingly dull character whose performance is designed to elicit plot exposition. Reeves does a fine job as Richard Ramsay, but The Whole Truth suffers because it is not The Practice or Boston Legal; the film does not have the time to develop the characters enough for the viewer to care about them. The defect in The Whole Truth is that outside the horror one feels for the surviving Lassiters over how terribly they were treated by Boone and the little victory of Janelle's first successful cross-examination, the film fails to make viewers invested in the characters and the outcome of the trial.

That is the death knell for The Whole Truth. The Whole Truth is adequately-performed, but in every way underwhelming.

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Suicide Squad
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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