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Zettel Film Reviews » Where The Truth Lies – Hamlet is easier to play than Hancock

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Where The Truth Lies – Hamlet is easier to play than Hancock

the treat in the sandwich

the treat in the sandwich

Where The Truth Lies – Director Atom Egoyan

Casting? How hard can that be? I used to think in my blissful ignorance. Then you compare say Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with this not dissimilar noirish mystery movie and it hits you. Kilmer/Downey was high risk but inspired. Shouldn’t have worked but it did. Bacon/Firth – should have worked but doesn’t. Basic rule – when almost everyone seems to be miscast – look at the writing.

Another rule: never underestimate comedy. If you have a character who is supposed to make people laugh – cast a comedian, he’ll pick up the acting skills. Doesn’t work the other way round. Unless you can write material so sharp, so honed, that any professional could make it play. And there’s the rub: Shane Black’s dialogue for KKBB is witty, pacy, stylish. It says – ‘play me!’ By contrast two fine actors like Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth struggle to breathe any life into their lines in WTTL. Plus: writing one character who is meant be funny may be brave but writing a double act with poor material and expecting us to buy into it is jumping out of the plane with no parachute. Not daredevil – dumb.

My film-student son tells me off for criticising people of talent trying to produce something good. Especially of course, if I can’t do any better. OK. He’s right. But my point is not that there’s any shortage of talent or commitment in WTTL. It’s just that you don’t have to be an aeronautical engineer to know that a plane with one wing won’t fly. This is a plane with one wing.

I just don’t buy Lanny (Bacon) and Vince (Firth) as in-yer-face funny men who become media stars. It’s not the actors – it’s the writing. It just doesn’t play. And as Lanny and Vince open the movie it’s struggling from the start. Casting Firth against type is OK. He’s more than up to it. But he’s got nothing to work with. Bacon is too busy hamming it up to kick some life in to Lanny and Sonja Bennett is just too bland and anonymous, as written, to give either of them anything to work off. And Maury Chaykin as Mob boss Salvatore ‘Sally’ Sanmarco gives cardboard a bad name.

Visually and atmospherically, this is LA Confidential territory but without a credible plot or any real sense of pace or style. Egoyan is a very cold director. Detached. That can be good. Look at Kubrick. But here unplayable characters serve an incredible plot. Maybe it’s me but I even got confused about the critical question of in which hotel and when, the plot-driving dead girl was found. Plus a ponderous score that always suggests something heavy and dramatic is going to happen – but doesn’t.

In the end there just isn’t enough dramatic juice in the plot to justify the slightly tacky sexual explicitness. If you’re going to make this kind of thing work it needs pace, something to drive the action forward. Egoyan seems to want to invest proceedings with a degree of emotional depth he hasn’t created the characters to sustain. Not without its moments but in the end disappointing.

(September 2005)

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