Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where the Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan's film was notorious for it's failed attempt to escape an NC-17 rating. Unfortunately more publicity was made for the supposed provocative scenes rather than the movie as a whole.

The story is a fascinating mystery about a young writer (Alison Lohman) who is trying to uncover the mystery of what caused the death of a young lady, who is found dead in the bathtub of a famous 1950's singing comedy duo. Although they were not charged with the murder, the event destroyed the comedy team, and changed both their lives forever.

Among the many things that are enjoyable about the movie is the outstanding performances by Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth. The two actors navigate through the different generations expertly. One moment they are playing world weary performers that are past their prime, and the next scene they are younger, vibrant 1950's style singing comedy performers. They share great chemistry, effortlessly bouncing between the two time periods, as well as, playing well off of each other when they perform their "act". It's fascinating to watch cause they really inhabit the characters so well. Colin Firth plays the straight laced British man, to Bacon's wild child American. In a way it's reminiscent of a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis type act. But it's also unique in it's own right.

Alison Lohman plays a driven writer who is trying to find out the truth about the young woman's death. I think a lot of people will probably feel it's a one note performance. In all honesty I can see that point, but I wasn't bothered that much by her performance, because I felt her character represented the viewer's innocence, and naive understanding of the two entertainer's world. Throughout the film she is trying to find evidence to support her feeling that these two entertainers are good people at heart. She feels that their performance pieces are a true representation of their personalities. But the more she uncovers, the more she is let down when she sees their true weakness and humanity. She also laces her performance with a strong sexuality that is hard to resist. I've never really found her that attractive in most of her work, but I found her sexuality effective in this role.

The film also features outstanding production design. The costumes, set and look of the film really capture the two time periods expertly. Especially impressive considering that it's an independent film.

As far as the story and mystery plot, it's really kind of standard stuff. There are clues that lead to more clues, that eventually reveals what we think is the truth, only to have a twist at the end. It's lightly reminiscent of L.A. Confidential and other mystery type films. But it has the definite feeling of an Atom Egoyan film. I can't really articulate what THAT feeling is though. The best I can say is that it feels like his movies The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Felicia's Journey. That sort of feeling of being turned on, and at the same time confused, uneasy and uncomfortable. Whatever that feeling is though, it's something I find unique to his movies and I enjoy when I watch them.

Perhaps it's the adult tone of the film that I enjoy so much. Which is probably what made the censors so nervous. The film does have an adult approach to sexuality. The characters played by Bacon, Firth and Lohman all carry an air of adult, aggressive, sexuality in their nature, and in their relationships. But it doesn't feel cheap or juvenile, it feels authentic and mature.

As far as the actual content of nudity and sexuality that earned an NC-17, I found it relatively tame. It's really unfortunate that censors felt so threatened by the material. In reality it's stuff that one would probably see in an episode of Six Feet Under or Deadwood. It's hardly anything that really merits such controversy. Also all the sexuality is done to service the story, and never feels gratuitous or exploitiative. It's one of the reasons why I found the film so refreshing. The film was obviously not aimed toward a mainstream family friendly audience, like so many of today's movies are. The movie tries to challenge the viewer with the mystery plot, and at the same time it also doesn't treat the audience like complete idiots or children by not holding back with the sexuality and complexity of the plot.

It's unfortunate the film was unrated because the box office of the film obviously suffered from the ratings board's decision. But I honestly couldn't see how the story could be told without the scenes, and I admire Egoyan's decision not to bend to the will of the censors. Hopefully the movie can now find an audience on DVD.

Check it out. It's available on Tuesday Feb. 28th.

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