Where the Truth Lies
As twisty and sophisticated as they were, a lot of the old film noirs had a barely disguised salacious undertow. The women (Lana, Rita, Barbara) were high priestesses of nasty pleasure, and the films coasted, in essence, on our desire to see their carnality laid bare. Where the Truth Lies, Atom Egoyan’s sexy, tantalizing, and befuddling noir murder mystery, works in a similar fashion. Cutting between two very different eras and moods, the jaunty submerged darkness of 1957 and the sunlit jadedness of 1972, Egoyan, adapting a novel by Rupert Holmes, unwraps the tale of a team of comedy legends, Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), who are clearly meant to be a fictionalized takeoff on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In the ’50s, the two are riding high, and Egoyan stages their nightclub and telethon appearances, as well as their after-hours hanky-panky in the company of groupies and mobsters, with a juicy inside-showbiz knowingness. But then the body of a woman, apparently drowned, is discovered in their hotel bathtub, and though neither man is charged with a crime, their career crashes to a halt.
Cut to the early ’70s, when Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman), an aspiring journalist, pursues each of them to uncover the heart of their hidden scandal. She’s far from objective: As a girl, she appeared on their polio telethon, and her relationship to both men, especially Kevin Bacon’s rakish Lanny, is that of a former Lolita ardently pursuing her spiritual Humbert. Lohman, who has peachy skin and the loveliest of overbites, acts with the breathy enthusiasm of a very cagey starlet, and the fact that it’s genuinely hard to tell whether she’s a slightly amateurish ingenue or a good actress playing innocent is intrinsic to the movie’s appeal.
For much of Where the Truth Lies, the prospect of Karen’s defilement lingers, and Egoyan, who has made the destructive attraction of older men to younger girls the driving obsession of his work, knows how to exploit our voyeurism. A mood of lush romantic decadence — sleaze made enigmatic — hovers over Where the Truth Lies, which has a score that works so hard to evoke Vertigo that it may leave you dizzy. I swooned, at times, though I would have done so more freely if Egoyan the mad academic formalist, tinkering with structure and ”unreliable narrators,” didn’t have a way of tripping up his own spell.
The movie’s voyeurism carries over to the ’50s scenes, which, if anything, are even more lubricious. Lanny and Vince’s dance of ego and intimacy is at the heart of Where the Truth Lies. Bacon plays Lanny with a rotting wolfish charm, and he and Firth, with his flips of politeness and rage, make the film’s big secret feel right. That the crucial revelation scene got the film threatened with the taint of NC-17 (it’s now unrated) only proves that sin truly is in the eye of the beholder.