Based on the acclaimed novel by Rupert Holmes, Where the Truth Lies is a provocative film about interconnected lives that are shattered by ill-fated acts of deception and ambition. Shifting effortlessly between mob-run clubs of the mid-50s and glamorous Hollywood Hills mansions of 1972, the film explores the dark, beguiling, and inevitably destructive side of fame and fortune. The result is a tense and atmospheric mystery that uses cinematic sleight-of-hand to challenge any preconceptions about "truth."
In the 50's, Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) are the hottest showbiz duo in America. The combination of Lanny's brash American style and Vince's biting British wit is irresistible, especially to beautiful women. The pair is a particular favorite of Sally San Marco (Maury Chaykin), a mob boss who owns nightclubs up and down the east coast. He makes sure 'his boys' have anything they want. The 'anyone they want' is handled by Lanny's inscrutable man-servant, Reuben (David Hayman). When a beautiful young woman, Maureen (Rachel Blanchard) is found dead in the bathtub of the duo's suite, their glittery world begins to crumble. They have rock solid alibis and are exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing; however, the scandal causes the once inseparable pair to part company.
Fifteen years later, the myth of the Collins and Morris controversy still fascinates the public. Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), a young and ambitious journalist, is determined to uncover the secrets of the two men who, coincidentally, touched her life when she was a child. She persuades a publisher to offer a guarded Vince Collins one million dollars to collaborate with her on writing the untold story of his life with Lanny Morris. There is one condition: the truth must be told about the scandal that destroyed the duo. What really happened the night Maureen died?
After Karen hears that Lanny has written his own tell-all book, she flies to New York to meet her publishers. On the plane she comes face to face with Lanny himself. There is undeniable chemistry between the two. Unwilling to reveal her true identify, Karen pretends she is a schoolteacher. They share one passionate night before resuming their separate lives.
As Karen continues to search for many different truths—the truth about Vince and Lanny, the truth about Maureen's death, and even suppressed truths about herself—she becomes embroiled in a tense and bewildering game of cat-and-mouse. The problem is, the more she learns, the less certain she is of her role. Is she the cat...or the mouse? And what are the consequences?
A surprising, suspenseful whodunit that explores—and explodes—Hollywood's mythmaking machine, Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a legendary show business team of the 1950s whose sudden brush with scandal leads to their breakup. Fifteen years later, a tell-all book revealing secrets about their split is about to be written, and threatens to destroy what remains of their tarnished reputations. It also promises to launch the career of its sexy young author, played by Alison Lohman, who uses her brains and beauty on both men in order to unearth their long-buried story. Pitting two characters determined to hide the truth—at all costs—against one who is equally determined to expose it, Egoyan has created a many-sided mystery in which no one and nothing is quite what it seems, and in which the very nature of truth, and our ability to ever know it, is cast into doubt.
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Rupert Holmes, Where the Truth Lies is an entertainment full of twists and turns that happens to be about the twists and turns of the entertainment industry. At its center is a trio of attractive, ambitious, and ambiguous characters: Vince Collins (Firth) and Lanny Morris (Bacon), are a wildly successful comedy duo of the sort that was a staple in the '50s. A study in contrasts, Vince is the tall, debonair straight man, always seen with a whisky in one hand and a woman in the other. Lanny is the gawky, goofy sidekick who says and does anything for a laugh. Together, they star in one hit movie after another, while selling out club engagements everywhere from L.A. and Las Vegas to Miami and Manhattan. They even own the new medium of television, serving as annual hosts of a polio telethon. Of all the rewards that come with stardom, Vince and Lanny particularly enjoy their unlimited access to adoring, available female fans—that is, until one of those fans is found dead and disrobed in their hotel bathtub. Neither man ends up accused of any wrongdoing, but the bond between them is irretrievably broken. Years pass without their ever speaking to one another—or anyone else—about the girl's mysterious death.
Rounding out the trio of leading characters is Karen O'Connor (Lohman), an up-and-coming reporter who has just landed the plum assignment of writing the "true" story behind the Collins/Morris breakup. It is now the early '70s, and all the glamour and glory of Hollywood's heyday have vanished. Also vanished is the unwritten code of silence and discretion that has historically protected both the stars and their fans from too much truth. In these new tabloid times, inquiring minds need to know more about their idols than ever before, and nothing is sacred when covering the private lives of celebrities. One of the best and brightest of this brave new journalistic breed, Karen must turn a cold case about two fallen stars from the '50s into a hot story. As a young girl, Karen had been a huge Collins/Morris admirer, so once she meets them, her objectivity becomes increasingly clouded. When she develops feelings for them, her methods become increasingly questionable, and sexual entanglements ensue. Ultimately, for every shocking discovery that Karen makes about Vince and Lanny, she makes an equally shocking one about herself.
A guided tour through the Hollywood dream factory, where illusions are created and destroyed with equal skill, Where the Truth Lies may strike some as a departure for Egoyan. However different on the surface, this latest film is thematically of a piece with his entire body of work, a canon of ten feature films, all of which have dealt, in one way or another, with the treacherous nature of sexuality, the differences between appearance and reality, and the subjective nature of truth. Egoyan describes his new film as "a story about the conflict between a public mythology and a private history," but this is a description that could easily be applied to any number of his most personal and identifiable works. Though he is partial to working from his own original screenplays, Egoyan's occasional adaptations of literary source material have much in common with any story he has created directly for the screen. Like Where the Truth Lies, they have prismatic, fragmented structures, multiple time frames and points of view, complex and morally ambivalent characters, and dark secrets hidden behind a disarming, deceptive surface.
Adapting the Novel
The presence of these qualities—in abundance—convinced Egoyan to adapt Holmes' book, his maiden effort as a novelist. A successful and prolific singer/songwriter/music producer, Holmes displayed surprising versatility as the composer and librettist of the Tony-award winning musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This long-running Broadway hit, adapted from an obscure work by Charles Dickens, also displayed his affinity for the crime thriller genre, something he would mine again in Where the Truth Lies. More importantly, the book mined Holmes' extensive knowledge of the inner workings of show business. "It's chronicled by Rupert," notes Egoyan, "who knows that world like the back of his hand, and he therefore gives a vivid account of the entertainment world in the '50s. It's full of detail, and it's essential to the success of the story that you feel it being told by someone who was there. I think one of the most attractive aspects of the novel is that you feel as though you have access to something that is otherwise very private."
It is this privileged glimpse into the entertainment industry that makes Where the Truth Lies so dramatically rich. Egoyan knows that show business is paradoxical by nature, at once highly visible yet highly insular, full of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. The irony is that audiences are attracted by this very duality; they flock to theaters to see seemingly perfect people on-screen. Then, they flock to magazine stands to read all about the horrible things these beautiful people do. This, in a nutshell, is what the character of Karen O'Connor is all about. She spends half of the film worshipping Lanny Morris, a man she has had a crush on for most of her life; she spends the other half trying to prove that he is a murderer. The fact is that Lanny is neither the myth nor the monster, but Karen would rather see him as either one of those two things, than accept the fact that he is merely a man.
"The thing that fascinates me about the entertainment industry," notes Egoyan, "is that it involves constructing a persona; that is, it involves representing something other than who you are. And, by doing that so well, people want to believe it. This is what's at the heart of the story: who are these people? Who are Lanny and Vince?" He continues: "They've existed as popular icons, and they want to preserve that. In a way, Karen wants to clear their names and, in turn, the mystery around them, because she adores them so much. But, in doing so, she opens up this Pandora's Box, and has to completely reassess who these people are. And, in the process, she has to reassess who she is."
Though it could coast along on its cleverly constructed, intricately designed plot, Where the Truth Lies comes to life on film because Egoyan is equally concerned with the psychological and emotional veracity of its characters. For this reason, Rupert Holmes was thrilled when he received Egoyan's request to option and adapt the novel. "I love his work," says the author, "and I realized that he would bring something to this that very few directors would—that he would be very focused on the characters as well as on the mystery." As an admirer of Egoyan's previous work, Holmes was open to changes the director felt his adaptation would require. "He understood that the book was something unto itself, and that the film had to be a reinvention", says Egoyan. A key change was made in how Lanny and Vince were characterized. Holmes' book was almost a "roman à clef," with Collins and Morris patterned directly after an actual performing partnership whose famous, and mysterious, breakup looms large in Hollywood folklore. Egoyan wanted to distance his project from any lurid speculation, so his Lanny and Vince evolved into wholly fictitious, as opposed to barely fictionalized, characters. The nature of their act was also changed from the one described in the novel.
Much of this was accomplished by making Vince British instead of American, enabling Egoyan to use well-established stereotypes about the differences between England and the United States as the basis for the comedy routines. "It seemed to me that it was possible to have this British guy trying to tame or control this impulsive and unpredictable American," recalls Egoyan. "I felt that there were enough examples of British actors like Peter Lawford, David Niven, Rex Harrison, Laurence Harvey or, before that Noel Coward, to illustrate how Britain would have had an influence on American culture at that time." Lawford, in particular, as a founding member of the illustrious "Rat Pack," is perhaps the most obvious antecedent for Colin Firth's Vince, who plays "ego" to the Kevin Bacon/ Lanny Morris "id."
Getting It Made
After completing the first draft of his screenplay, Egoyan presented it to his longtime producer, Robert Lantos. About the script, Lantos recalls, "I loved it. I thought that it was the perfect next step for Atom and I to take—a film noir—which would open his work to a broader audience but which still carried his distinct signature." As to why he liked this particular film noir, Lantos says, " I was riveted and seduced by the screenplay's revelations, sensuality and suspense. It is a film about relationships and the deterioration of friendships. It is also about what happens when someone is secretly in love with a celebrity and comes face to face with that person." Describing the project in these terms, Lantos certainly identifies the elements that make it a more accessible, more commercial film than their previous collaborations. But, in describing its themes—"it's about the quest for truth—about peeling away layer upon layer of hypocrisy and lies; the process of getting right down to the kernel, right down to where the truth lies"—he is identifying the elements that make it quintessentially, unmistakably Egoyan. "My mission," Lantos concludes, "was to preserve what is entirely original and unique to Atom's way of filmmaking, and to deploy it into a film that would be accessible for more mainstream audiences."
One way of achieving this mission was for Lantos to endow this project with a much larger budget and much stronger production values than the filmmaker had previously enjoyed. Filmed over a ten-week period on location in Los Angeles and on extensive interior sets built in studios both in London and Toronto, Where the Truth Lies is mounted on a scale commensurate with its Old Hollywood subject matter, and its glamorous period—or, rather, dual period—setting. The script called for major set pieces in such diverse locations as a network television studio, a packed metropolitan nightclub, a lavish mob-run casino, and the presidential suite of a luxury hotel, all dressed for the mid-'50s, and many crowded with perfectly clad and coiffed crowds. For Egoyan and his production team—production designer Phillip Barker, cinematographer Paul Sarossy, and costume designer Beth Pasternak, all of whom are frequent and long-time collaborators—the project was a massive undertaking. It was also a feast—one that allowed Egoyan to have his cinematic cake and eat it too, by making a Hollywood-style, Hollywood-scale film that, at its core, is more than a little critical of Hollywood.
Creating the Design
To prepare for production, Egoyan watched numerous vintage films, both classic and "neo" noir, for inspiration. He also studied films that employed voice-over narration—a noir trademark—in order to decide how to employ that particular technique. (With its differing points of view, dueling narrators, and contradictory testimonies, the film is unusually reliant on voiceover as a device.) While he found this research useful, Egoyan maintains that, "you can look at all these films, and get excited, but YOUR film is ultimately going to be something that is going to come from you."
Since so much of the film is about surfaces, and how different they are from what's behind them, Phillip Barker's contribution, designing sets from two distinct periods, was considerable. Barker drew inspiration from several sources including the work of architect Morris Lapidus, who designed such '50s landmarks as Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel and the Eden Roc. At London's Shepperton Studios, Barker built the extravagant Versailles Presidential Suite, where Vince and Lanny stay during the telethon, and where their fateful one-night stand with a compliant but conniving beauty leads to catastrophe. This ultra-swank set is decorated in pristine beige-on-beige tones, which serve to intensify the sordid and unseemly nature of the events that will occur there. For this set, Barker used a style known as "Mi-Mo" or Miami Modern, which Lapidus founded.
Barker observes that "Lapidus came out of window display and set design, and I thought his style would be appropriate for the film. He felt that he could take the average American and make them live like movie stars. It's a style that's all about façade, not substance. That's what the film is about too—the whole entertainment industry and the fallacies we have about Hollywood." Describing the look of these scenes, Barker says, "it's flamboyant, it's over the top, it's playful. There's no symmetry, no straight lines, and it's the perfect sort of happy playground in which all these horrible things can occur."
Working with his cinematographer, Paul Sarossy, Egoyan looked at such glossy black-and-white classics as Gilda for reference. Both men were interested in the way in which "diffusion was used in classic noir film, which is typically recognized as a style that is very deep contrast, a look typified by detective films of the '40s. Yet there was something very soft, romantic, and glamorous to these images," says Sarossy. This lighting style is used in Where the Truth Lies but, ironically, it is used in the more contemporary sequences set in the '70s. These scenes, after all, are the ones that contain the "private eye," whodunit plotline. As Sarossy explains it, he and Egoyan intentionally chose the anti-Hollywood route, reversing expectations by "using the visual lexicon of the '70s in our '50s material, and using the darker contrast of the film noir for the '70s. In a way we've turned the standard vocabulary of these two periods on its head."
Egoyan began pre-production on the film immediately after the premiere of his production of Die Walküre. "Music was very much on my mind as I was preparing for Where the Truth Lies. I was excited by Wagner's brilliant use of motifs in his orchestral score, and I wanted an expressive symphonic sound in this film". Egoyan and his long-time composer Mychael Danna listened to the scores of Bernard Herrmann—himself clearly influenced by Wagner—as well as Elmer Bernstein's music for The Sweet Smell of Success and Duke Ellington's jazz tracks for Anatomy of a Murder. The rich score for Where the Truth Lies combines these lush orchestral strains with the early 1970s influences of such bands as Roxy Music, Santana, Funkadelic and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Down to its closing moments, Where the Truth Lies keeps its audience guessing as to what really happened—both in the past and in the present—and about who really did what to whom. In true Hollywood fashion, there is the climactic scene in which all of the many loose plot strands are tied together, and there is rapprochement between the bad/good girl and the good/bad guy. To top things off, Egoyan sets the climactic scene on a studio backlot. Whether making use of Hollywood conventions or making fun of them, whether scrutinizing the amorality of show business or satirizing it, Atom Egoyan skillfully shows us the mystery of life at the same time he skillfully puts life back into the mystery.
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