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Politics, Press and Principle Comprise Nothing But the Truth

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 29 Apr
Politics, Press and Principle Comprise <i>Nothing But the Truth</i>

DVD Release Date:  April 28, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  December 17, 2008 (limited)
Rating:  R (for language, some sexual material and a scene of violence)
Genre:  Drama/Thriller
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Rod Lurie
Actors:  Kate Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon, David Schwimmer, Alan Alda, Matthew McConaughey, Angela Bassett, Edie Falco

After the president of the United States survives an assassination attempt, the government invades Venezuela, the country they blame.  Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) is a CIA operative married to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, a staunch critic of the administration.  She's found evidence to the contrary, but when she presents this information to the president, he ignores it.

Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) is a Washington, D.C., political reporter who covers White House affairs.  She becomes aware of Van Doren's identity and reveals it in a front-page story.  Chaos ensues.  Van Doren is accused of sharing the information, but Armstrong won't reveal her source.  When a special prosecutor named Patton DuBois (Matt Dillon) is assigned to the case, things escalate.  He tries to strong-arm Rachel into revealing the source, but she adamantly refuses.  Although the paper puts all of their legal expertise behind Rachel—and suffers heavy fines for defending her source's right to privacy—DuBois has Rachel thrown in jail for contempt of court.

She believes—and she is told—that she will get out soon.  As the days mount, however, the media begins to forget Rachel's plight and her family begins to fall apart.  Van Doren, too, suffers the consequences of her career, and both women face threats on their lives. When Rachel's husband and her editors and legal counsel start to waiver under the pressure, she is forced to choose to examine the very high cost of a free press. 

Rod Lurie knows politics—at least enough to write and direct films about them in a very credible and winsome way.  Here, the mastermind behind both The Contender and Commander in Chief takes on a story ripped from the headlines:  that of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed after she refused to reveal the source who revealed the identity of CIA operative Valarie Plume.  There, however, the similarities between the two stories end.  This isn't just a tale about principles, it's also one that forces us to think about the double standards that women face in male-dominated careers—especially when politics are concerned.

Beckinsale does a decent job with her role, showing that still waters can run very deep.  Farmiga is even better.  One of the best scenes in the film takes place during a confrontation between the two.  Dillon is excellent as DuBois, the frowning special prosecutor with just enough self-righteous indignation to persuade you that he could be right.  And yet, faced with the speech that Alan Alda, as Rachel's attorney, makes to the Supreme Court we soon realize that, despite the rhetoric, DuBois is wrong.

"Somewhere along the line the press stopped being the white knight and started being the villain in black," Alda begins.  "(But) as the years pass, the power of government becomes more and more pervasive. Those in power, whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it and the people are the victims. … But what is the nature of government if it has no accountability?  We should shudder at the thought.  Imprisoning journalists is for other countries, for countries who fear their citizens—not for countries who cherish and protect them." 

Alda concludes with these words: "With great people, there is no difference between principle and the person."  It's an arresting and powerful speech (the film is worth the watch for this alone) which illustrates the high cost of integrity.  It should makes you think about the slow dismantling of the newspaper industry taking place around the country.  Sure, the Internet is fine for big news.  But who else except journalists will really attend all those city council meetings, county council meetings and school board meetings then report what happened?  Who else is going to hold the government and the politicians accountable, using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Freedom of the Press (1st Amendment to the Constitution)?  No matter how you may feel about the press, without newspapers—the only form of journalism with both the time and the space to report in-depth—there is no accountability at all.

Toward the end of the film, DuBois says, in defense of himself, "I had every right to do what I did."  Armstrong replies, "I think you're confusing your rights with your power."  It's a thought that everyone should consider, when contemplating the nature and the role of government.  And it's framed in a fabulous film.


  • Commentary with writer/director Rod Lurie and producer Marc Frydman
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Previews
  • "The Truth Hurts:"   The Making of Nothing But the Truth


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Mild social drinking and the occasional cigarette.
  • Language/Profanity:  A few profanities and/or obscenities, some of which are very strong.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Brief sex scene (fully clothed) between married partners; various discussions of adultery.
  • Violence:   One scene in which a character is murdered (offscreen); another where female character is brutally battered; characters argue harshly.