Trials are inherently dramatic, with an airing of evidence to prove or disprove allegations of guilt or innocence. The inherent drama of courtroom trials are why so many shows are dedicated to the procedural, such as the countless variations of Law & Order that have occupied a place in television for decades. The latest courtroom drama to land in the cinemas is The Whole Truth, starring Keanu Reeves as an ace attorney trying to get his client acquitted of murdering his father. It’s a twist heavy piece of fiction that often falls into the realm of schlock, but that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t oddly entertaining as the absurd layers of the case are slowly revealed over its brisk 90-minute running time.
Mike Lasseter (Gabriel Basso) stands accused of murdering his father Boone (Jim Belushi), a brash and controlling patriarch who has made a considerable fortune as an attorney. Richard Ramsey (Reeves) is a family friend who takes on the case at the request of Mike’s mother Loretta (Renée Zellweger). The case isn’t a cakewalk for Ramsey – his client hasn’t spoken a word since his arrest, and the cryptic words he uttered at the crime scene and the handprint on the murder weapon point to his guilt. The only assistance on the case for Ramsey is Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young attorney with her own complex history of mental illness. For all her faults, Janelle does have a knack for detecting when people are lying. The defense’s case is entirely predicated on the notion that Boone was an abusive father, husband, and an all-around despicable character that pushed his son to the brink that the young man had no recourse but to kill his father in self-defense. All Richard Ramsey has to worry about is whether or not the jury will believe the defense’s case or else the bright future of Mike Lasseter will be squandered in a jail cell for the rest of his years.
A majority of director Courtney Hunt’s film takes place in the courtroom with the testimony of witnesses leading to flashbacks that flesh out the details of the case. Each flashback in the script by Nicholas Kazan presents events through the perspective of the witness, and situations diverge based upon who is testifying. It’s not a particularly inventive form a narrative structure, but it is quite effective. Sure, The Whole Truth is like an opulent version of a court procedural that you might find on CBS on any given night, but for all of its shlocky twists and turns it still remains engaging for the most part.
Keanu Reeves anchors the film as the lawyer with shaky confidence in his case but a determination to see his client acquitted. It’s a sign of Reeves’ strengths as an actor, another role that doesn’t take the venerable actor outside of his comfort zone. Renée Zellweger gives a teary-eyed performance as the widow with her son on trial, adding a sense of depth beyond her weary smiles. Surprisingly, Jim Belushi excels as the murder victim, menacing in flashbacks as a rage-filled patriarch. The real standout of The Whole Truth is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who has a character with a complex history that leaves her lacking her general confidence. It gives the young actress a chance to shine in a role that isn’t merely the supportive wife, like last year’s Concussion. The Whole Truth is a movie that could’ve easily descending into pure camp, and it’s the cast that never allows that happen.
The Whole Truth isn’t going to blow any minds or redefine how trials are portrayed on the screen, but it never set out to do such a thing. It is simply a modestly entertaining drama that has a few too many twists and turns and a talented cast that anchor the proceedings. Courtney Hunt’s film is minor in scale but remains entertaining and modestly engaging throughout, and though it lingers a bit too long on its big reveal it never overstays its welcome. I’ll raise my right hand on the Bible and swear that you could do a whole lot worse than The Whole Truth.
The Whole Truth
A schlocky twist heavy courtroom drama that remains entertaining throughout, The Whole Truth is elevated by its talented cast led by Keanu Reeves in the glossiest procedural not on CBS.