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News Reporters and News Sources:
Accomplices in Shaping and Misshaping the News
by Herbert Strentz
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"Nothing But the Truth"
Israeli born writer-director Rod Lurie ("The Contender") delivers a sense of truthfulness to a taut political thriller that has all the earmarks of having been based on the real case that inpired it--the purposeful exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert identity as a CIA Operations Officer. With unproven (as yet) origins in the Cheney office of the Bush Administration, it was a realpolitick act of revenge against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who dared to publically question the then-president's false assertions about Saddam Hussein's source of nuclear material in order to bolster his case for invading Iraq. That tragic and possibly treasonous "get-even" act by the 2003 White House provides Lurie's fictional tale an unequivocal basis of credibility.
Enter Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), devoted political reporter of the Capital Sun-Times and literally a soccer mom who rides the bus to see her son off to school and plays referee while en route, to hold down the antics among the children. This is a professional woman who seems to efficiently maintain an orderly separation between work and personal life, neither compromising the other.
Which makes it possible for her to make the scoop of her time which, unfortunately, involves revealing Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) -- a fellow mother of a soccer-playing boy -- as an undercover CIA agent. Van Doren was the secret agent who operated for a time in Venezuela and cleared that country from culpability in the assassination attempt. Do we smell Pulitzer Prize for this astounding revelation?
Van Doren wastes no time assigning legal bulldog Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon) as a special prosecutor with powers that override the normal legal system to ascertain the source of Rachel's damaging intel so as to deal with the traitor. But, true to her professional ethics and her own stanch principles, she remains adamantly silent on the matter to the point of being jailed. There, she deals with cold female guards and inmates in large communal quarters, attracting the attention of 2,000-dollar-suited lawyer Albert Burnside (Alan Alda), the man you want at your side in the courtroom or when he's putting your case to the test before the Supreme Court.
The days of Rachel's imprisonment tick brutally by until they become excruciating months. Her husband (David Schwimmer) brings their son to visit but it's too emotional for both mom and boy and she asks that he not return to the prison to see his mom this way.
Neither side gives. The government will have its information; the reporter refuses to furnish it. A conjugal visit makes it clear that her marriage is falling apart. Finally, seeing how far the case and Rachel's principles have gone, her source comes forward. But as soon as Dubois hears that Rachel approached him for corroboration of Van Doren's covert role, and did not learn about Van Doren's secret government work from this man, the reporter is returned to prison garb, again, until she reveals her primary source.
The effort to force her into submission is long and takes an increasingly heavy toll, with taut anticipation of an end game and laborious beats of tiresome sameness. In one of her best roles, Beckinsale is entirely up to the task of conveying the kind of spine it takes for a woman going up against the full force of governmental coercion. This babe would resist the witches of Salem if that were who she had to face.
Dillon is faithful to his charges, as well, to the point of obnoxious, stiff-backed cruelty which he hides behind a not-so-deceptive mask of soft-spoken reasonableness--a friend, from hell. He's the heavy in the piece and you have to remind yourself that his position, while it makes you squirm, is not incorrect. Powerful, as well, is Farmiga, who shows us what the absolute demand for revenge on her betrayer looks like. One might not have expected that the girl from "The Departed" was capable of such rage, but here it is, giving us a wider view of her range. One might see that she could have been cast in the central role, as well.
The underlying secret, the source of the reporter's initial intel upon which everything hinges, makes the circumstances of this kind of sacrifice believable, organically motivated and the cost for such agonizing consequences, arguably, justified. The secret isn't revealed until the bitter end, giving the piece considerable impact. It should, with the no-nonsense, intelligent approach throughout, bring a deserved burnishing to auteur Lurie's creative regard in the movie industry.
~~ Jules Brenner