On Second Thought: “Nothing But the Truth”

If you’re a working journalist and wish to continue as one for some time, good moral character isn’t the only thing you’ll need. The ability to create relationships with sources is paramount in this profession. They’re the ones who give you the answers to questions and sometimes raise new ones. The facts from these various people are what will pad your piece, no matter the level of importance, and make you a credible writer. However, if you break the crucial rule with regards to your sources, your career will basically be over.

The Yari Film Group film “Nothing But the Truth”, is a thrilling look at one woman’s quest to uphold a core principle of journalism.

This drama thriller film stars Kate Beckinsale (upcoming “Love & Friendship”, “The Face of an Angel”), Matt Dillon (“Wayward Pines”, “Bad Country”), Angela Bassett (“London Has Fallen”, “American Horror Story”), Alan Alda (“Broad City”, “Horace and Pete”), Vera Farmiga (upcoming films “Special Correspondents”, “The Conjuring 2: The Ennfield Haunting”), David Schwimmer (“American Crime Story”, “Episodes”), Courtney B. Vance (“American Crime Story”, “Terminator Genisys”) and Noah Wylie (“The Librarians”, “Falling Skies”).

The film is written and directed by Rod Lurie (“Straw Dogs (2011)”, “Commander in Chief”).

The film originally opened on Dec. 19, 2008 in a very limited run before being released on DVD on April 28, 2009.

For this next film in this journalism series, I’m breaking what seems to be an established rule, even though it wasn’t spoken of before. This film and this piece aren’t about a real life person, per se. It’s about a real life event and people, but the entire film is a fictional take on the event and the issue it deals with overall. In fact, this film is so far removed, that at times I wasn’t even sure if the main character was a composite of two real people or just inspired by one. Anyway. It’s one that I felt was absolutely worth including in this series as it also comes with it’s own companion film. More like the two films are opposite sides of the same coin. That’s at least how I see it.

This film is inspired, somewhat, by the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose name was leaked in a Washington Post piece by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. And yes, the linked article is the actual piece Novak wrote. It’s also inspired by former New York Times Reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed for refusing to refused to reveal the name of her source after she became involved in the scandal of the leaking of Plame’s covert status.

While this film is a dramatization of a painful part of American history, it’s about so much more than that. This film is all about protecting sources, as was in some ways, the real life event this film is borrowing from. For any journalist to succeed in this profession, they need to be able to guarantee that the identity of any source won’t be compromised. If this happens, especially on a public stage, the journalists career is effectively over. How are any sources, potential new ones or existing ones, supposed to trust someone who has already shown their word means little?

And so we find ourselves here. Looking at this complicated drama and the various principles at stake. And the reason why I can’t simply side with just one. They’re both just as important, but have competing interests. How do you decide? Plus, these are the reasons why this film needs to be seen by more people and why I enjoy it so much.

The main principle in this film is protecting a sources identity, particularly when someone wants you to reveal it or face jail time. I learned this principle, and understand it to some extent. I believe in it completely, which is what initially made me interested in this film.

Beckinsale’s character, like any journalist I’m sure, just wants a good story. If she gets a lead or a tip from someone then she’ll want to follow it. That’s exactly what happens, albeit much quicker than normal. This film essentially takes off when Beckinsale is told by her editor, Bassett, that they’ll be running her story. And so things start to go wrong.

Long and the short, she refuses when asked. She knows she must protect her source at all costs. It’s vital or the institution will cease to work. And so you get a phenomenal performance from Beckinsale as she goes through this struggle. Not only do we get court appearances and interrogations by the Dillon’s special prosecutor, but we see the jail time. None of this is easy on her and it shows through Beckinsale’s performance. She’s created such a brave and inspirational character, not to mention a tough character, and all you can hope for is that it all works out. To make matters tougher, she’s not merely looking out for herself or her reputation. She has a family to think about.

We meet her family early on and it’s a good family environment. She loves her husband and her kid, plus she takes part in her kid’s field trip. She’s pretty much awesome already! It’s because of this that you quickly get a great sense of who she is and can connect with her on multiple levels. So, when she’s finally put through the ringer for writing a story, you too can feel what she’s feeling. That’s the beauty of this, it doesn’t try to overplay the emotion. Lurie and everyone else got the emotional level just right. It is truly a rollercoaster at every moment.

And that’s just one side. On the other side, for the government, is Dillon, the special prosecutor. He’s brought in to investigate the leak and hold those involved responsible. Trouble is, he’s talking to a journalist, and she won’t budge. So he does what he must, and gets the judge to order her in contempt of court. Which, if you think about it, is completely understandable.

Dillon may come off as the villain, but upon further examination, he’s not the villain at all. He’s operating the way any person who wants to know the truth would be. He just wants to know who leaked Farmiga’s name as a CIA agent. He’s trying to operate on behalf of the US government. His line of thinking, as is so wonderfully on display by Dillon, is that the safety of the country is at stake. You know, national security concerns and all that jazz. He’s not wrong, and this is where a lot of the thought provoking content comes in. You have two noble, but competing sides, each arguing with valid points, but you can’t just take one side. It’s a back and forth that never stops engaging you.

And the rest of the cast and characters are just phenomenal! For a film that I almost missed, I actually don’t even know how I came to learn about it, the work done in this film should be seen by more people. Since it basically had no release, it’s the exact type of film that deserves the title of independent film. Each of the other characters, of course, play a specifics role.

Schwimmer, for instance, keeps the strained family life present. Continues to serve as an example of what Beckinsale could have back if she reveals her source. And then there’s Alda, the lawyer. He’s a fierce advocate for her in all ways, and an incredible actor, too. This role alone has me loving that he still takes any roles. His character has one of the most important lines, and memorable ones, too. It goes to the heart of this whole ordeal. It presents another side. He says to Beckinsale, “I’m protecting, Rachel Armstrong, not a principle.” He’s right, but even his powers of persuasion don’t work, and he sticks by her. He does everything he can, and this furthers the emotional ride this film takes you on. When you think something will go one way, it swerves unexpectedly.

A true stand out, whom I hadn’t considered before is Farmiga. Her character is just as determined as Beckinsale in figuring out who outed her. She’s been nothing but loyal, but as the film progresses she’s not treated as if this is the case. She must defend herself at different moments and it’s very taxing. She too is a parent, and only wants to do well there and with work. The brilliant side of this, is that portraying Farmiga’s side works. It’s not simply because it makes sense to have it, but it flowed organically, and gave you a person to connect with as the public and private fallout only grows. To show, simply, that actions have consequences. For me, seeing Farmiga in this role helped to remind me why I like her so much and keep an eye out for the work she’s going to be seen in next.

The complex story is definitely worth it. It’s engaging and suspenseful. It’s a great thriller that also has you thinking at times. It takes you on a roller coaster ride, emotionally and through the narrative you get lost in a world that isn’t too far off from the real one we know. For me, I think it’s a testament to this film that I can continuously get angry and become unsure of what I believe each time I watch. Some films only seem to present a black and white view of something, which is itself okay, and you never get the chance to really weigh your opinions or form new ones. But when a film can challenge you, even once, and still be entertaining, it’s gotta be worth it.

”It’s illegal for a government official to reveal the identity of an undercover agent.”

This isn’t simply a dramatic line in an exciting thriller. No, this is true, which makes sense that they’d have a law in the fictional story. Although, I can’t remember what law Lurie cited so it may be fake in the film. However, in real life, the law is called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. It’s meant to do just that, and comes with some pretty heavy consequences if it’s violated. When doing additional research, including looking over the act, I could understand why this is so crucial. Many, many lives are at stake when some intelligence agent is outed. It’s bad enough to that in American history, there’s been numerous instances of classified information being leaked to a third party and people’s lives being lost. With this in mind, especially after seeing the Robert Ames scandal portrayed in “The Assets”, I’m no longer so sure which principle is the one to stand behind.

It’s harder too, when you realize that for journalists, there’s no federal law that helps to protect them from having to reveal their source or face jail time. It all comes back, largely, to protecting sources. The journalist doesn’t really get much out of it for themselves, at least not in the way you’d think. They want to protect the identity of whomever it is that gave them information, otherwise they’re going to be less likely to come forward with information as they may not feel safe. That’s the need for a federal law. And as far as I know, nothing’s been passed or talked about in some time..

Fortunately, the state of California (and 47 other states) does have a Shield law of some sort. It protects a journalist from having to disclose an unnamed source or unpublished information acquired during the process of writing a story. More or less. However, it’s not perfect as there are exceptions or ways in which a journalist may have to reveal the source or face contempt of court. Some of these points make sense, even if it still seems unfair that a journalist would have to do this. It is better than nothing.

Protecting one’s source is vital to gathering information for any news story, especially if it’s an important story with major implications that could lead to change. On the flip side, upholding the safety of the country is just as important. So, who has more of a right to do their job? It’s a tough one to take sides on, and this film shows how vital it is for journalists to stand up, and how difficult it is for them to do so.

Gripping trailer:


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