Where the Truth Lies (2005)

Michael Buening

In a mystery titled Where the Truth Lies, solving the case is not going to be easy.

Where the Truth Lies

Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman, David Hayman
MPAA rating: NC-17
Studio: THINKFilm and Serendipity
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-14

In a mystery titled Where the Truth Lies, solving the case is not going to be easy. In form, Atom Egoyan's latest film is reminiscent of conspiracy-minded thrillers like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential that follow an investigator into a seedy underbelly perhaps best left alone. As a mystery, the movie largely fails. I've been shocked by too many incestuous and cross-dressing plot pirouettes to be much surprised at the secret behind the murder of a hotel maid associated with '50s lounge act Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth). But before the film succumbs to dum-dum-dum theatrics, it holds some potential as an exploration of how ego and ambition can prevent us from seeing the "truth."

The film opens at what will be the last of Lanny and Vince's annual Veterans' Day Polio Telethon in 1956. Their shtick is patterned after Martin and Lewis, with Vince playing the suave (in this case, British) straight man and Lanny as his hyperactive childlike foil. When the telethon ends, they jet from Miami to Atlantic City to headline the opening of a new hotel owned by mob boss Sally San Marco (Maury Chaykin). There they discover in a bathtub the dead body of Bonnie Trout (Sonja Bennett), who worked at the hotel they just left in Miami. Lanny and Vince are cleared of any charges, but soon after, they break up.

These events, along with circumstances surrounding the murder, are revealed through the investigations of a young writer in the early '70s, Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), who is working on a tell-all book about Morris and Collins. She has arranged an exclusive deal with Vince to detail his life in the comedy team. She also arranges to see chapters from Lanny's autobiography. Seeking ever more exclusive access, she pushes her increasingly tangled personal involvements with the aging performers, even seducing and sleeping with Lanny after a chance encounter.

Karen is smart, fashionable, ambitious, and styles herself as the up and coming forefront of "New Journalism." In order to portray the "truth," she includes herself as a character in her reportage, a strategy Vince questions. She was an adoring fan of Morris and Collins as a child and, because she appeared as a polio-cured guest on that final telethon, presumes she has a special connection to them. However, in imagining herself to be involved with the story, her self-absorbed mindset clouds the fact that she understands nothing about their relationship. It is only after a regrettably Alice in Wonderland-themed drug experience, when her ego is eroded, that she is able to ponder the facts surrounding the murder from outside herself.

That forthrightness and authenticity are rare commodities in the Hollywood of the '50s, '70s, or today is hardly shocking. That Egoyan gives in to stale genre tropes in the final portion of the film is disappointing. In The Sweet Hereafter and Felicia's Journey, he showed a kind of Hitchcockian patience and used a classically novelistic structure, such that emotional arcs dictated action. In these films, it is no shock that certain truths are being obscured, but the manner in which they are revealed helps to chart ways of dealing with grief and guilt.

Through Karen, Where the Truth Lies reflects and investigates a society in love with celebrity. By urging us to feel connected and wanted within this world, the entertainment industry distorts our ability to pursue life on anything other than larger-than-life terms. They are extreme examples of our tendency to build personae to guard our tender emotions.

So, Karen's initial, sensationalistic impulses lead her to seek out the "big story" in whatever manner possible. However, she soon becomes a medium thought which the plot is worked out and as the film thuds past one groan-inducing twist to the next, instead of offering a nuanced alternative, the film reinforces this desire for sensationalism, bypassing any practical insights into how distorting the truth affects anyone and leaving us with clichés as lifeless as the closing scene's studio back lot.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.