You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Whole Truth’

Truth be told, Keanu Reeves and Renée Zellweger deserve better than this predictable courtroom drama.

Keanu Reeves, Renée Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabriel Basso, Jim Belushi.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3503406/

There are so many mysteries swirling around the otherwise open-shut courtroom drama “The Whole Truth” that the relatively banal question of who murdered Boone Lassiter is undoubtedly the least interesting. The cops already have their man, and the judge wants a swift trial. Meanwhile, audiences might well ask, what was it that turn-of-the-millennium stars Keanu Reeves and Renée Zellweger saw in this material, which plays like a rejected episode of “Law & Order: SVU”? Or, equally intriguing, why did promising “Frozen River” helmer Courtney Hunt (who spent some of the eight-year span since her impressive indie debut directing episodes of “Law & Order: SVU”) choose to go back to the big screen with such a weak legal procedural?

Reeves plays Richard Ramsay, family lawyer and longtime personal friend to the late Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi), a rich Southern blowhard found stabbed to death in his bedroom. When the cops arrived at the scene, Boone’s teenage son Mike (Gabriel Basso), by all reports a promising college-bound kid, was kneeling beside the body and said something to the officers that sounded like a confession. Mike hasn’t spoken since, but he’s on trial for the murder, and it’s Richard’s job to get him off, despite what seems like overwhelming evidence to suggest that Mike killed his father.

Already there’s something fishy in this arrangement: If Richard was Boone’s lawyer, and Boone is now dead, should he really be defending the No. 1 suspect? And why, if history has shown that wives are often responsible for such crimes, is no one taking a closer look at Boone’s widow, Loretta (Zellweger), whom evidence suggests may have been the victim of physical abuse and repeated infidelity? Even the camera seems to be avoiding her, at least at first, as Zellweger appears discreetly over Richard’s shoulder, fretfully attending her son’s trial, but getting suspiciously little screen time for someone who surely knows more than she’s letting on. And then there’s the ludicrous detail of Mike’s silence: The young man refuses to utter a word in his own defense, until the last minute, when he suddenly insists on taking the stand — a decision that makes Richard extremely nervous, as the lawyer has no idea what his client might say.

Viewers who’ve spent any time watching TV courtroom dramas will probably believe they’ve figured out “The Whole Truth” from practically its opening scene, and despite a few minor twists along the way, chances are, they have. The real mystery is what this script must have contained that didn’t make it onto the screen, because at a meager 93 minutes, “The Whole Truth” feels like a fraction of some larger, more ambitious project, one in which certain roles — such as the doting mother/long-suffering wife played by Zellweger, or the conflicted young legal aide (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who joins Richard’s team — surely contributed additional color to this drab-looking drama, whose only energy hails from its agitated piano score. Certainly, the heavy narration by Reeves is a clue to someone’s attempt to simplify and reshuffle things in the editing room.

Whatever the explanation, the resulting film feels like a missed opportunity, one that volunteers the observation that “all witnesses lie” and proceeds to cast in doubt everything that anybody says — a formula by which only the accused, who keeps his mouth shut, seems above suspicion. Meanwhile, Richard has his work cut out for him trying to defend Mike with no help from the young man, and yet, he makes swift progress by painting his late friend Boone as an overbearing monster, using cross-examination to present an image of someone who got what was coming to him.

It’s kind of cheat that the witnesses’ testimony triggers cutaway scenes to Boone’s worst offenses, from picking up loose women on business trips to embarrassing his son in front of neighbors at a family barbecue, considering that those who take the stand offer milder or downright conflicting accounts of the events being depicted. Of course, it’s not really the jury that Richard is trying to convince here, but the audience, for whom Mbatha-Raw’s character serves as proxy — the daughter of Richard’s mentor and a promising young lawyer in her own right. She is perhaps the only truly decent character in this whole mess, though even she has skeletons in her closet. At any rate, much of Richard’s defense has been crafted just for her benefit, and it’s sort of a letdown that she doesn’t play a bigger part when everything starts to unravel.

Looking back to “Frozen River,” Hunt’s long-awaited second feature shares the weaknesses of her debut — namely, a single-minded focus on a somewhat trashy predicament, with little to no room for subplots or other enriching details — while lacking in the earlier film’s strengths. Missing is the gritty suspense and vivid local color, not to mention a central performance as compelling as Melissa Leo’s tooth-and-nail turn. Here, it feels as if anyone could have played these roles, and there’s something a little sad about watching the ever-wooden Reeves and numb-looking Zellweger (convincing as a rich man’s frail, if resourceful wife) settle for such shallow work, considering how much more we know them to be capable of. These two actors were at the top of their game 15 years ago, and though they each comes with certain baggage, truth be told, they deserve better.

Film Review: 'The Whole Truth'

Reviewed at Real D Screening Room, Beverly Hills, Oct. 5, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate Premiere release of a Lionsgate Premiere, PalmStar Media Capital presentation, in association with Filmnation Entertainment, Merced Finance, of a Likely Story production, in assocation with Atlas Entertainment. Producers: Anthony Bregman, Kevin Frakes, Elon Dershowitz, Raj Brinder Singh. Executive producers: Gideon Tadmor, Eyal Rimmon, Buddy Patrick, Scott Fisher, Jamin O'Brien, Stuart Brown, Vishal Rungta, Nicholas Kazan.

Crew: Director: Courtney Hunt. Screenplay: Rafael Jackson. Camera (color): Jules O'Loughlin. Editor: Kate Williams.

With: Keanu Reeves, Renée Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabriel Basso, Jim Belushi.

More Film

  • Zoe Lister-Jones The Craft

    'The Craft' Remake Finds Director in Zoe-Lister Jones

    “Life in Pieces” star Zoe Lister-Jones will write and direct Sony Pictures’ remake of “The Craft” for Blumhouse and Red Wagon Entertainment. Doug Wick, the producer of the original “The Craft,” will return in the same capacity along with partner Lucy Fisher through their Red Wagon banner. Jason Blum is also producing and his Blumhouse [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett's Mother-Daughter Story 'Carrie and Me' in Development as a Movie

    Carol Burnett’s bestseller “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” is in the works as a movie at Focus Features with Burnett, Tina Fey, Eric Gurian, and Steven Rogers producing. Burnett will produce through her Mabel Cat Productions with Fey and Gurian under their production banner Little Stranger along with Rogers (“I, Tonya”). The sibling [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Plans for Agency Pact Expiration: 'There Will Be Difficult Moments'

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent members contingency plans for the possible expiration of its agency franchise agreement on April 7 — and admitted that it may be a rocky road. Members received the letter Tuesday from the guild’s negotiating committee as the WGA and agents were about the hold their seventh [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Entertainment One, Universal to Partner on Home Entertainment

    Entertainment One and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year, multi-territory distribution agreement. UPHE will serve as the home entertainment distributor of eOne’s offerings across both physical and digital formats. The pact covers film, television, and select family content and includes all sales, marketing, and distribution, spanning the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Spain, Australia, [...]

  • Will Smith Jada Pinkett Smith

    AFI, Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Launch Second Young Women in Film Intensive

    The AFI Conservatory and the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation have partnered to launch the second annual Young Women in Film Intensive. The AFI Campus in Los Angeles will host 45 high school girls for an eight-week filmmaking workshop, where students will receive mentorship from current fellows and working professional alumni of the AFI [...]

  • Paul Davidson

    The Orchard Head Content Executive Paul Davidson Steps Down

    At the finish line of its sale to 1091 Media, distributor the Orchard’s film and TV head Paul Davidson is parting ways with the company. In an amicable split, the creative executive addressed staff in person and in a company-wide memo on Tuesday in New York City to inform them of his decision. More Reviews [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content