Egoyan – Where the Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan’s latest film, which seems to be quite far removed, in plot at least, from his previous film, Ararat. If a few words could accurately sum up Egoyan’s obsessions and themes, it would be "where the truth lies" which would make this a nice opportunity to look back on Canada’s second best memory obsessed director, except I’m not feeling up for a retorspective.

There are some big problems with Where the Truth Lies; among them the characters, the acting, the amateurish direction, and the plot. None of these are beyond redemption, but parts of each are weak enough to end up being unsatisfying.

As John has mentioned, the film is supposed to depict a Martin-Lewis type showbiz team, but they seem closer to Rowan & Martin of Laugh-In. In fact, with his moustache, Colin Firth looks quite a bit like Dick Martin Dan Rowan. Not that they should have been drawn to be MORE like Martin & Lewis, but with Martin & Lewis you understood their dynamic fast. With Kevin Bacon & Colin Firth, it’s really hard to tell why they would be a popular nightclub act at all, though the film tries through voice over and stage scenes to assure us they are.

And for a guy who used to depend on his actors to convey a lot of story with almost no dialogue, we get tons of dialogue and voiceover here. Too much. Part of it is to explain the nonlinear flashbacks and convoluted plot, but it was done so much more gracefully in The Sweet Hereafter, which was hardly a simple film, that this just suffers in comparison. Alison Lohan seems too young and lacks the gravitas needed to pull off a tough role of a journalist/ innocent / seductress. Again, it’s hard not to compare her to someone like Sarah Polley in Sweet Hereafter, who was excellent in that film.

All that said, this kept my attention, because I enjoyed watching Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, and it makes me want to go back to Egoyan’s video-tape stalker film Felicia’s Journey with Bob Hoskins to see how it compares with Egoyan’s older video-tape stalker film, Speaking Parts. John – have you already seen this? I’d looked for it several months ago unsuccessfully, but it showed up at the video store recently.

(thought about putting this under the Jerry Lewis thread where it had been mentioned, but it’s got nothing to do with him really, and thought Egoyan desereved his own thread.)

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Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

5 thoughts on “Egoyan – Where the Truth Lies”

  1. I haven’t seen–and probably won’t see, any time soon–Where the Truth Lies, but I wanted to pipe up with some appreciation of Egoyan’s later films.

    Both Sweet Hereafter and Felicia’s Journey are excellent adaptations of two seemingly maladaptable novels. Both are exceedingly interior in their narratives, all inside character’s heads; what I love about both films is how Egoyan captures tone and–through a striking use of close-ups, and a keen eye (or sure directorial set of commands) for the actor’s eyes as means for capturing thought.

    I love Polley, Holm, Davison as they struggle and remain speechless. I’m even more impressed by Hoskins in Journey–the best serial killer ever put on film, with none of Hannibal L’s glorious hambone or Henry’s guttural snarl… just intent, seemingly content, never less than intense. There’s a great scene where we follow Hoskins up the stairs, on his way toward a murder, and at the top he pauses, and slowly turns and stares into the camera–holds our gaze for a moment–and then turns back to his task. (Much as I liked Funny Games, Egoyan’s one short precise challenge to the audience is far more effective than Haneke’s ball-peen-hammer attack on our desire for the thrills of violence.) Hereafter is so moving; Journey seems more of a piece with Egoyan’s other films, where the emotions are steeped in a lot of reflective thinking, and the film seems more a study in consciousness than in feeling.

    I should re-see Speaking, and his other earlier stuff; I was never as big a fan of that, but the two later adaptations really sold me.

  2. Mike, do not disparage Haneke, especially after you made me a loyal convert! That being said, Exotica is the Egoyan film that does it for me. Brilliant and heartbreaking and structurally complex and Leonard Cohen. What more can one ask for.

  3. If it’s not been made obvious in my postings, I really admire directors who unapologetically explore consistent themes over multiple films, and of course Egoyan ranks high in that regard. There’s a lot of Exotica‘s fantasy-style carnality, and sex figures prominently in most of his films (Not sure about Ararat.) Also memory, truth, voyeurism. I was a little disappointed in Exotica when I saw it, but it’s one I’d like to revisit. As with Cronenberg’s Crash, it really caught me off-guard at the time, but I think I’d like it much better now.

    And oh yeah – Where the Truth Lies is also an adaptation of a novel; written by Rupert Holmes, you will know best as the singer of the Pina Colada song. No, really.

  4. Oh–not dissing Haneke; I think Funny Games is weaker than some of his other films, and I think Hereafter is just so brilliant that FG pales in comparison. Despite that ‘critique,’ I still really enjoy Games.

  5. Saw Ararat, and it’s worth a gander. For the Egoyan fans, it makes you rethink his whole oeuvre–its approach to the genocide of the Armenians (in 1915, by the Turks), is fractured by multiple narratives, by the difficulties of telling a true story, and by the confusions produced by film and filmmaking. Watching this, I readjusted my sense of what earlier films (particularly Family Viewing) are up to.

    It has an amazing and effective structure–about five storylines, all woven together, focusing on the attempt to understand what happened in Van in 1915, but also on how one tells that story (and why so many do NOT tell that story, or deny it). The focus comes through a film production of the events, but the film and the “reality” being reconstructed quickly blur, so that even when we’re watching a “re-enactment” we recognize actors from the film. Or Egoyan will show us one emotional scene on soundset, with director just out of center frame, while the next shot will be as if in real life, same actors but now ‘being’ the people they play.

    Those intellectual pyrotechnics are greatly enhanced by some amazing performances, particularly from Christopher Plummer and this one kid (youngish adult) who I didn’t recognize.

    But there are also many wince-inducing instances of exposition, particularly early on. There’s so MUCH backstory, and in many key moments Egoyan has characters “argue” to spell out some of that background. A few of those moments, and at least one of the multiple storylines, seem(s) forced–and distract from the emotional impact he’s seeking (and seems to feel himself).

    I’d be very interested in others’ reactions; the film does a very good job at tackling the problem of historiography in a way that is both ‘true’ to my own postmodern leanings but not for all that unemotional, merely ironic, or insincere. But I’m not sure it works as a film as fully as you might hope…

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