By Melissa Antoinette Garza
How did this film sneak under the radar? I’m a Keanu Reeves fan. I enjoy Renee Zellweger’s body of work in dramatic roles. When I was younger, I adored Jim Belushi. He was the principal, man! That combined with my adoration for court room dramas would have had me in the theater opening day had I known it. Where was the advertising? I had to hear about it from Amazon!
Thankfully, this was one the recommendations made from the company and it took me all but a second to bite
Keanu Reeves portrays attorney Richard Ramsay. Ramsay along with his assistant Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are hired to defend Mike (Gabriel Basso). Mike is a 17-year-old who stands accused of killing his rich, overbearing and abusive father, Boone (Jim Belushi). Mike refuses to speak to Richard or anyone else. He won’t offer a defense or insight into the murder.
His silence irks Rich as he’s been the family lawyer for years. He knows that Mike is a good kid and he is aware of Boone’s history. He wants to put on the best defense possible, but Mike makes his job all the more difficult by opting to remain silent.
Mike’s mother Loretta (Renee Zellweger) rushes to the defense of her son. She had been beaten and was constantly berated by Boone. Her young neighbor saw that she had been raped by Boone. Her coping mechanism was to become an apologetic, nervous housewife. She attempted to please Boone at every moment. She dealt with his drunkenness and all the rage that came out with it. Her neighbors did not. After Boone threatened them, they built a fence and ended their friendship.
As the trial goes on and witnesses are called, the viewers gain insight into how awful Mike and Loretta’s life was. Through a series of flashbacks and testimony, siding with the defendant is an easy task. As Boone becomes more intense and more horrifying, one can’t be anything but happy that he’s dead.
As expected with such a stellar cast and intriguing plot, THE WHOLE TRUTH is a phenomenal watch. I purchased the film (rather than rented) and I’m glad that I did. It has believable yet surprising twists and turns. At times, it feels as though it’s based on a true story, even though it isn’t. The actors are so dedicated to their roles that it seems as though the people they are portraying are real.
The pace, tone and dialogue are perfect. The conflict between the two female protagonists, Loretta and Janelle is intense, but thankfully not catty. When they speak to one another, the stakes are raised and the audience is pulled in different directions as to what is real, what they should think and what they should believe.
The casting is perfect. Jim Belushi is perfect at playing the rough-and-tough abusive husband who both the family and neighbors understandably hate. I always remember Belushi as the protagonist in THE PRINCIPAL (1987). I must’ve watched that a million times when I was a kid. It’s such a dramatic switch to see him as a dark, violent, hateful monster that is downright scary at times. The insults thrown at Loretta cut deep enough where the audience bleeds. I look forward to Belushi doing more dramatic roles.
Gabriel Basso conveys a lot as the quiet uncertain defendant. He conveys a lot without saying a word. When he does finally speak, Basso relays the well-written dialogue and makes certain the empathy one feels for Michael is even stronger than before.
This isn’t the first-time Reeves portrayed an attorney. He also played one in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (1997). As much as I do love that film, it’s over-the-top insane fun. Here, Reeves shows off his acting chops as a much more subdued and dedicated lawyer, who is dedicated to his client above anything else.
Renee Zellweger delivered a powerful performance as the abused, neglected wife desperate to protect her son. During the flashbacks, Zellweger portrayed Loretta as an insecure and scared wife. Later her claws come out when she’s fighting for Michael. Both are shown marvelously and Zellweger doesn’t miss a beat bringing us into her family’s struggle.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is terrific in her role as well. While the trial proceeds, Brady’s increasing amount of doubt and curiosity is what spawns the unsettling feelings that dwell within the viewer. Janelle’s intense conversations with Loretta leave us wanting more.
Lastly, Jim Klock played the prosecutor Leblanc. It would’ve been easy to make the prosecutor a scumbag just looking for a win (e.g. AND JUSTICE FOR ALL ), but instead throughout the trial it’s clear that Leblanc sympathizes as well. He wants the truth and he wants justice, but he is a good man. He isn’t in the film other than during the trial setting, but he does things that movies typically don’t show. Leblanc doesn’t hold Loretta in contempt when he could have. He uses kid gloves when questioning Michael. Even though Leblanc never comes out and says that he feels badly for the defendant, Klock conveys it beautifully.
I can’t suggest this film enough. It’s reminiscent of PRIMAL FEAR (1996), but is more believable and more heartfelt. It’s gut-wrenching at times. This film may have been greenlit because of GONE GIRL (2014), but I think it’s a far superior film. It’s not sensationalistic or insane. The actions of the characters are sensible given the situation. I also appreciate how the filmmakers did not approach this as if filming a LAW & ORDER tv show. Many court room based films, use that type of hard-hitting, over the top questioning seen in the show. I love LAW & ORDER, but I don’t want every court room drama having people scream at each other and break down on the stand in defeat. THE WHOLE TRUTH understands this and gives us timid testimony with an intriguing and developed plot that pulls us in. In the end, everything ties together nicely. That said, it isn’t so much about the reveal as much as it is about the insanity that existed between the most significant characters.
Scared Stiff Rating: 8.5/10