Where the Truth Lies: Egoyan’s Tale of Collaboration and Friendship, Inspired by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Cannes Festival World Premiere–Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan is a cerebral art director who excels when making small, personal films, such as Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. The one thing he is not is a commercial or genre directors, as became clear with the psychological thriller, “Felicia’s Journey,” which was a disappointment.

Egoyan’s new noirish look at Hollywood mores, Where the Truth Lies, takes him to the industry of the 1950s and 1970s, two of his favorite decades as far as filmmaking is concerned, but, alas, he gets neither right.

Egoyan has taken a basically trashy material, at the center of which there’s a young beautiful woman found dead in a hotel bathroom, and has made a dense, multi-nuanced, and multi- layered narrative that instead of pulling the viewers into the investigative report manages to do quite the opposite by creating detachment. Here is a subject matter that doesn’t call for the kind of intellectual approach, complexity, and self-reflexivity that have become Egoyan’s signature.

Arrart, Egon’s previous film about the Armenian genocide, which was a personal film, and better than Felicia’s Journey or Where the Truth Lies, suffered from the same problems: Too many layers.

The story follows the showbiz careerz of Lanny Morris (played by American Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (the very British Colin Firth), loosely inspired by the careers of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s. Jumping back and forth between the two time frames, it’s a chronicle of professional collaboration and intimate friendship that in due course suffers from betrayal, and ends in a tumultuous split for both partners.

Though based on Rupert Holmes’ book of the same title, the screenplay is very much a quintessential Egoyan work that reflects his consistent themes and obsessions. It’s easy to establish direct links between this work and Exotica, for example.

The story begins in 1959, when Lanny and Vince are at their prime as the most beloved entertainers in America. They seem to form the classic duo: Lanny is the manic comedian, while Vince is his cool straight man. The ultimate pros, they know how to manipulate their audiences’ emotions, how to make them roar with laughter with a rude joke, and how to make them feel and weep through their famous telethons.

Highly aware of their success and status, Lanny and Vince know how to enjoy life and exploit their fame to the fullest. They stay in the best hotels, seduce room service attendees, and engage in orgies with beautiful women. These chapters are grounded in the late 1950s, and as such provide an early study of fame, its rewards as well as price.

Egoyan is good at conveying how the couple reaped the rewards of their celebrity, but quite disappointingly, he’s not good at depicting the sex scenes. The central orgy, which has homosexual overtones (Lanny tries to make out with Vince), is particularly poorly shot.

Out of the blue, a terrible event threatens their success, friendship, and welfare. Inexplicably, a dead body turns up in their hotel suite. Though their reputations are immediately sullied, thanks to their solid alibis, neither man is charged with the crime.

Nonetheless, the partnership is destroyed, and Lanny and Vince go their separate ways. Years pass with neither speaking to the other, or anyone else, about the death of the young girl, whose identity is a mystery. There are speculations over the real reason for the couple’s breakup, but the case remains one of those unresolved showbiz mysteries.

Cut to 1973 and to a young writer named Karen OConnor (Alison Lohman), who decides to reopen the case and turn it into a hot story. Winning a lucrative deal to write a scandalous expose about Lanny and Vince, Karen begins to ferret out the hard facts behind the fabled showbiz split.

The aforementioned description presents the plot in a linear, progressive manner, which is the way the book was written. However, this being an Egoyan film, the narrative that unfolds onscreen is much more complex and unnecessarily convoluted. Offering multiple POVs, accompanied with multiple voiceovers, the film interjects into routine exposition scenes too much layering that prevents us as viewers to get involved emotionally in the proceedings.

Every element in the film is presented, only to be later negated or contested. It turns out that there are two books being written about the case: Karen’s and Lanny’s. And for almost every view of a character or event, there’s a denial or contradiction of that event or character.

On the plus side, Egoyan dissects mercilessly the journalistic profession and the impossibility in this particular case of having an objective or detached approach. Indeed, Karen becomes sexually and emotionally involved with both Lanny and Vince. And the more invested she is in the men and their respective stories, the blinder she gets about accepting some disturbing truths about the men, the murder case, and her own morality. In the last reel, Karen ends up apologizing for each and every misconduct as a journalist.

One of the picture’s main problems is Alison Lohman, an otherwise talented actress who’s completely miscast as the femme fatale. Lohman is not attractive or alluring enough to seduce both men, and she often comes across as not very bright rather than naive.

What could have been a classic noir of talent and treachery, love and lust, buried secrets and betrayed trust, becomes in the hands of Egoyan an unnecessarily complex, convoluted, and even confusing meditation on the price of showbiz fame and the so called journalistic ethos.