Despite a film career that spans more than 30 years and countless genres, Keanu Reeves is by far best known as the star of action films like Speed, The Matrix and John Wick. Something about his calm, collected demeanor and physical precision just suits Reeves in these kinds of roles. So, it stands to reason that they would become his trademark. Yet, whenever the actor takes on anything other than the action/sci-fi thrillers people associate with him, he manages to surprise with his ability to carry stories that don’t involve a whole lot of ass-kicking. So, as the internet eagerly awaits John Wick: Chapter 2, Reeves headlines a decidedly less violent effort in courtroom drama The Whole Truth.
In the film, Reeves stars as Richard Ramsay, a high-powered attorney representing a young man (Gabriel Basso) accused of murdering his own father (Jim Belushi). Complicating matters is Ramsay’s own long-standing friendship with both men as well as the defendant’s mother (Renee Zellweger). The Whole Truth marks the long-awaited sophomore effort from director Courtney Hunt, who made a striking debut with Oscar-nominated drama Frozen River back in 2008. While her latest release isn’t likely to earn the same level of acclaim, it does offer an interesting take on a proven genre.
Rather than extensively flesh out Ramsay’s personal life, The Whole Truth intercuts between the murder trial and “flashbacks,” depicting multiple variations of the events that preceded the crime. As its title implies, the film then aims to be more ambitious than most legal dramas, as it is ostensibly concerned with dissecting the very nature of truth and the fact that no one is entirely truthful.
Reeves’ character even points this out pretty early on, allowing The Whole Truth to act as the cinematic equivalent of the old adage that “there are three sides to every story.” Certainly, Hunt and screenwriter Rafael Jackson deserve some credit for tackling the elusive nature of truth. However, they do so without really adding much depth to the concept, relying instead of an endless parade of twists to keep audiences intrigued about what really happened.
Moreover, The Whole Truth subjects audiences to frequent – and somewhat intrusive – voice-over by Reeves. It’s a stylistic move that seems intended to make the film feel more complex than it really is and to add a glossy noir sheen to the proceedings. The film’s story tries to evolve as it progresses but instead begins to feel as if it is unceremoniously shifting gears, threatening to leave engaged viewers behind.
Luckily, Reeves’ performance is stoic but effective, lending enough personality to make Ramsay a likeable protagonist. Still, one wonders how the film would have played if original star Daniel Craig had stuck with the production, since the James Bond actor tends to exude a quiet intensity that might have allowed Ramsay to pop more effortlessly.
No surprise that Oscar-winning actress Zellweger – who made a high-profile return to the spotlight with Bridget Jones’s Baby earlier this fall – likewise plays the role of concerned mother and distraught wife well, though she doesn’t have a meaty enough role. Instead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) actually emerges as the MVP among the film’s cast as the de facto audience surrogate.
Her character – an ambitious attorney working with Ramsay on the case – comes to the story with fresh eyes and delivers an impressive turn, especially considering the limited role she has to play. The actress is soon set to appear in big-budget pieces like Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, and it’s easy to see why the Beyond the Lights star is poised to become the next big Hollywood breakout.
The Whole Truth might not be the freshest courtroom drama out there – mired as it is by B-movie twists and some repetitive moments – but the cast and thematic material are engrossing enough that audiences should find that the film has at least some entertainment value in it, despite its flaws.
Ultimately, the central mystery is more intriguing as a “whydunit” than a whodunit, and it’s unfortunate that The Whole Truth never completely decides what it’s trying to say or comes together in a more satisfying way. The cast and creative team behind it deserve better material than this, and if nothing else, perhaps Hunt’s return to the industry means that she won’t wait another eight years to direct a film. Seeing as she wrote Frozen River in addition to directing it, hopefully she has another solid script that she’s been itching to bring to life in the near future. We can’t imagine a better way to bounce back from this uneven entry on her filmography.
Keanu Reeves effectively anchors The Whole Truth, but a capable cast can only do so much to keep the lingering mystery afloat before logic weighs it down.