Filmmaker Atom Egoyan shifts gears a bit with this evocative potboiler based on the novel by Rupert Holmes. His best known prior works, Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, were notable for their somber tone and pacing that made glaciation seem downright snappy. You could probably criticize Where the Truth Lies for being conspicuously melodramatic, but I think you would be missing the point. This movie is sort of a thinking person’s Wild Things, only without the “full monty” from co-star Kevin Bacon.
Bacon and Colin Firth play Lanny Morris and Vince Collins, a 1950s comedy team not that far removed from Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. They broke up in 1957 the night after a dead woman was found in the bathtub of their New Jersey hotel suite. The two comics have an air-tight alibi so the woman’s death remains a mystery for 15 years.
Jump ahead to 1972 and an ambitious young journalist named Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) is pursuing an interview with Vince, hoping to get some information on what happened to Maureen O’Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard), the girl in the tub. Her efforts to interview Lanny are rebuffed because he is writing a book of his own, so she resorts to other tactics to get close to him.
In a lot of ways, Where the Truth Lies shares some common DNA with The Sweet Hereafter. Both films deal with the search for truth in the wake of a tragedy and both focus on those left behind. In the case here, we meet Maureen’s mother (Deborah Grover), whose husband recently committed suicide. A devout Catholic, she’s living her life as purely as possible to join her daughter in heaven. However, since the possibility exists that her death was suicide, she’s afraid she’ll end up heaven only to hear their tormented souls down in hell.
Both Firth and Bacon are highly effective as this beloved comedy team whose private lives are as unseemly as their public images are squeaky clean, equally convincing as both the younger men in their prime and the bitter middle-aged men they became. We see both the façade and the reality behind it, which itself is a façade masking a secret that may have nothing to do with a dead girl in a bathtub.
Unfortunately, Alison Lohman is less than equal to her co-stars, mostly because, barely twenty-four if my grade-school math is correct, she and her character seem far too young to be a journalist writing a million-dollar book about a legendary performer on the level of a Dean Martin.
This is far from Egoyan’s most profound work, but even when he tackles a pulpy story like this one, he still does it with a firm control of theme and style. Despite the copious amounts of bare skin and sex (enough for an NC-17), the movie never seems out-of-control or unnecessarily exploitative.