From his first film, the ludicrous nuclear arms-race thriller Deterrence, entertainment journalist turned writer-director Rod Lurie has specialized in hyperbolic message fare with a political bent, including The Contender, The Last Castle, and the TV series Commander-In-Chief. Though subtlety still eludes him, Lurie's skills as a dramatist have slowly improved, and Nothing But The Truth, his irresistible alternate take on the Valerie Plame case, show signs that the depth of his thinking, too, has gotten better in kind. Taking pains to make clear that the film is inspired by actual events rather than based on them, Lurie deviates substantially from the Plame/Judith Miller/Scooter Libby affair in order to critique a government and a society that's increasingly eager to eliminate protections for journalists unwilling to give up their sources.
For those who don't remember, the leak of Valerie Plame's position as a CIA operative came after her husband, a U.S. Ambassador, publicly refuted the Bush Administration's assertion that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase "yellow-cake" uranium from Niger to use for nuclear materials. It was major embarrassment for the Bushies, who were trying to pad a weak case for war, but somehow it became a story about who did the leaking to whom, and not about why the leak happened. In Lurie's film, the dynamics are more or less the same, except here it's about the government going after Venezuela for allegedly plotting an a failed assassination attempt on the President, but basing its attack on faulty intelligence. Kate Beckinsale plays a journalist who reports the leak of Plame stand-in Vera Farmiga's identity, but gets sent to jail for refusing to name her source.
Beckinsale's plight mirrors that of Judith Miller, the disgraced New York Times reporter who served roughly three months in jail for contempt of court, only her reasons are far nobler than Miller's—and, as a consequence, not nearly as compelling. Better are some of the supporting players, especially Farmiga, who's explosive as the tough, foul-mouthed CIA operative, and Alan Alda, who brings gravitas to the role of Beckinsale's steadfast attorney. Lurie could rightly be accused of oversimplifying a knotty case to score points for embattled journalists, but goodness knows, the field could use a boost. But mostly, Nothing But The Truth operates a lot like Billy Ray's Shattered Glass and Breach, offering up the sort of no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes docudrama that's in short supply these days.