Monday, February 01, 2010

Nothing But the Truth


Anecdotal evidence has always been against the middle man or against that middle ground. 

In business removing the middleman means raised profits since the middleman needs his cut just like any other which raises overheads.  In fights, riots, or brawls, the man in the middle or as they say the "taga awat" is the one who gets crushed.  In romance, well let’s just say, one will be flirting with a broken heart if there is a middleman. 

Perhaps in some definitions the Persian messenger in the movie 300 is not a middle man since he is a servant of the Persian King Xerxes; but considering his fate would anyone want to be in the middle of two warring kings.  Maybe an army is better than be crushed in the middle of two kings because at least you’d have the chance to fight.  Maybe...

Nothing But the Truth is about another entity in the middle: the media.  In today’s society, media acts like a middleman, as our eyes and ears on all sectors of society. 

Like the Persian messenger, the media in the film finds itself in the middle of the government eager to defend itself against all who dare question policy and its need to protect its integrity which depends on it being a institution where any citizen can express his ideas, including knowledge of a crime without fear of persecution.

The lead character is Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), a reporter with a monster of a scoop and naturally already dreaming Pulitzer Prize. She stirred up a political hornet’s nest with her piece alleging the President ignored a recommendation from the CIA regarding Venezuela’s involvement on an assassination attempt on the President himself.  The information, had it been considered, could have stopped a war against Venezuela.

It would have been simple for Rachel had it been reduced to a he said she said bout with the government but unfortunately for her national security was the government’s ace in the hole. 

What made Rachel vulnerable is that she had uncovered and named in her article the CIA agent as Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) the wife of US Ambassador to Venezuela.  Revelation such as that imply not only squealer or worse a mole within the secretive CIA but that would also mean that the entire network of contacts at home and especially in Venezuela could be exposed. 

Like any spy movie would tell you, or just look at your daily life, a network of contacts is not easy to build. And since in the context of the film a part of that network is a spy the exposure brings with it a danger of life and death to everyone. 

The US Government in order to prevent revelations of its intelligence networks enacted laws such as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.   And though Rachel had freedom of the press, the government was on a roll: there was a war, a retaliatory strike for an assassination attempt at that, and there was a law. 

Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon) plays the Special Prosecutor charged with the sole task of ferreting out the leak.  Rachel she was the only lead the government had and since the Special Prosecutor had nowhere to go and carrying the full weight of the government he had a fairly easy time railroading Rachel to jail time for contempt.  She and her paper were easily painted as unpatriotic.  Government outlasted all media attempts to paint her as a hero of the First Amendment

So that is, in a nutshell, the entire movie: will Rachel brake her vow not to reveal her source or not.  Let this be a warning for spy movie lovers; though there was a spy and her identity was revealed it was all a side show. 

Nothing But the Truth is about that middle ground: the media.  Government, citizen, any part of society can use it; spur debate; make changes; inform; hold people accountable.  The film asks of the audience those critical questions such as keeping sources secret, for that matter should government keep secrets?  Should Rachel talk and be with her family or should she keep to the ideals of the First Amendment and rack up those lawyer’s fees, be a mother in absentia?  Is the idea of a free press more important than one’s own life?

The Persian messenger comes to mind, "No one threatens the messenger", and we all know what happens next.   Leonidas and the US government in this film share the same motive.  Sure media can have its abuses but think about it, if there is no such thing as anonymity who wins?   What will happen to a society which looses that middle ground where there is a free exchange of ideas?

I like Kate Beckinsale if only because she’s pretty.  She did ok; a woman wondering if principles of the free press is worth her family.  But I wouldn’t so far and say she was excellent.  Oddly enough even with pen and notebook at hand she did not come off as a reporter to me. 

The rest of the characters were somehow forgettable which doesn’t bode well for the film.  The film has relevant issues yes, but somehow it seemed like a waiting game; will Rachel brake or not. 

Alan Alda was the film’s highlight in the sense the he verbalized the message.  He played Alan Burnside, Rachel’s Attorney.   When the case reached the Supreme Court he defended the right to keeping sources secret via the dissenting opinion of Branzburg v. Hayes.    'As the years pass, power of Government becomes more and more pervasive. Those in power,' he said, 'whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it, and the people are the victims.'
 
"When we as a nation will no longer be able to hold those in power accountable to those whom they have power over-and what then is the nature of Government when it has no fear of accountability? We should shutter at the thought. Imprisoning journalists-that's for other countries; that's for countries who fear their citizens, not countries that cherish and protect them."

But the best moment I have to say was the revelation of the source was out of the blue and yet surprisingly very plausible.  If Alan Burnside invoked jurisprudence, the source was largely symbolic and effective.

As for middle men and middle grounds, it is inescapable for anyone to choose a side but I think it is not always bad to have a place where all sides can meet; a neutral ground, a middle ground; where people can compromise; make changes, or to just simply talk...