Dir:Atom Egoyan. Canada. 2005. 107mins.
Fans of Canadian auteurAtom Egoyan, hoping for a comeback from the multiple missteps of his last film,Ararat, which played at Cannes in 2002, are bound to be disappointed bythe director's latest offering, Where The Truth Lies. Based on RupertHolmes' novel of the same title, the film, which follows the showbiz careers ofa comedy duo that will recall Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis for most olderviewers, is too smart and ambitious for its own good.
Egoyan'schief virtue and biggest problem has always been his intensely intellectualapproach to his filmmaking, and this film is no different. Its excellentre-creation of the ambience of 1950s television and the fine acting by KevinBacon do not make up for what seems to be a fatal lack of emotional investmentby Egoyan in the project, and the director's ambitions overwhelm his sourcematerial.
Internationalcritical appreciation will be spotty at best and box office receipts shouldhover in the territory of Felicia's Journey (1999) at best, rather thanthat of Exotica (1994) and the director's masterpiece, The SweetHereafter (1997). The film played in competition at Cannes.
Thefirst problem is that the film is structured in a needlessly complicatedfashion, and thus a gesture that was clearly meant to add layers of thematiccomplexity will end up confusing most audiences.
Inthe late 1950s, Lanny Morris (Bacon) and Vince Collins (Firth) are the mostfamous entertainers in America. Beloved because of their conspicuously exhaustingtelevision marathons to raise money for polio research, they demand top dollarto play the most exclusive nightclubs.
Oneday a young woman, naked and dead, is found in their hotel room (here a bit ofthe scandal surrounding comedian Fatty Arbuckle in the 1920s seems to haveinserted into the basic Martin-Lewis paradigm) and though they aren'timplicated in her death, their partnership turns sour and they disappear fromsight.
Fifteenyears later, another young blonde beauty, a reporter named Karen O'Connor(Lohman) decides to find out what really happened back then and quickly-anddangerously - gets mixed up the emotional dynamics of the comedians'relationship.
Plotexposition is jerkily advanced in a number of ways, including multiplevoiceovers, secret manuscripts, flashbacks, and recounted memories that tend toconfuse more than clarify. Many of Egoyan's classic themes are present - thereturn of a past that haunts, the effect of media on social consciousness, thedisruptive nature of sexuality, the familiar clash of appearance and reality -yet the original material seems insufficiently strong to carry all the weight.
Karen'sown sexual involvement in her subjects' lives complicates matters, but rarelyin a convincing or even, despite a kinky turn it takes, interesting way.
GivenEgoyan's expertise with the medium, the film is always watchable, though theviewer's patience is tried with corny devices like a recurring and borderlinesilly lobster motif, as well as a couple of over-the-top sex scenes thatprovide the principal fulcrum of the plot and will cause some to laugh ratherthan gasp, as was apparently intended.
Whilesome grace notes are weirdly suggestive, like the druggy singing of WhiteRabbit by a vixenish Alice in a kids' show, other moments seem false andirrelevant - perhaps they are remnants of the original novel that were notfleshed out enough - like Karen's strange visit to the dead girl's mother.
There-creation of the 1950s and the 1970s is done in quick and dirtyfashion-mostly through the shorthand use of clunky tape recorders, stewardess'uniforms and Afros-and seems done on the cheap.
Thelast part of the film is given over to the unravelling of the mystery of thedead girl's death, but the ultimate explanation is so elaborate that individualmotivations are nearly impossible to decipher, hence it's difficult to care.
Bacon'sperformance is nervous and edgy, and the forced and not always convincingintensity-whether purposeful or not - seems exactly appropriate to his character.Firth, on the contrary, stuck with the more reserved, calculating role (theDean Martin character has been transformed into an alcoholic, pill-poppingBrit), seems to be sleep-walking through the part. The weakest casting choice,however, is Lohman who, while fetching and completely serviceable in WhiteOleander and Matchstick Men, seems in over her head here and herbreathless dialogue delivery quickly gets annoying.
Egoyanretains his masterful eye, and the camera is always in exactly the right place,and the reticence of the mise-en-scene often says more than the overwroughtdialogue.
Alas,these palpable talents are not enough to rescue a project that he never reallyseems to have taken to heart.
Serendipity Point Films
First Choice Films