Where The Truth Lies directed by Atom Egoyan, written by Egoyan from Rupert Holmes's novel, with Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman and Rachel Blanchard. 107 minutes. A ThinkFilm release. Opens Friday (October 7). For venues and times, see Movies, page 99. Rating: NNNN
You'd think Atom Egoyan would be inured to the dazzle of celebrity. Successful directors deal with stars every day, without the glossifying benefits of makeup or coffee or publicists. But apparently, you can rub shoulders with the glitterati on a regular basis and still get buzzed by a shout-out from one of your heroes, especially if that hero is Bono and the shout-out comes from the stage of the sold-out Air Canada Centre.
"I have no idea how this came about," Egoyan says of attending one of U2's concerts two weeks ago. "I don't know him. I've never met him. He was talking about Canadian artists. I was kind of overwhelmed by that. I'm sure it was just something he was programmed to say by his handlers. But we have these fantasies about what these things mean."
American popular culture and the public's relationship with celebrities are central themes of Egoyan's new film, Where The Truth Lies, a thriller about a reporter trying to unravel a 20-year-old murder. Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) believes she has a "relationship" with her subjects, the comedy duo of Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon), and desperately wants to exonerate them, but her heroes keep disappointing her.
"That happens all the time in our relationship with celebrities," Egoyan says. "I made my father take me on a pilgrimage to San Francisco from Victoria when I was 13 or 14 to go to Santana's vegetarian restaurant. And I fully expected that my hero would be there. It was crazy. Of course, I never met him, he never came by. We create these relationships, and it was interesting to me that Karen's living out a fantasy she has entertained about these two."
Egoyan also wanted to explore the ego/id dynamic of a comedy duo, a combination that no longer exists. He deliberately pursued actors who were willing to bring part of their public personas - Firth as the "Darcyfied" Englishman who civilizes Bacon's rock 'n' roller - to the roles.
As he warms to the subject, there's a weird disconnect for me between the man enthusiastically parsing themes like a favourite film prof and the man whose face and name appear in newspaper clippings all over his sunny office. They serve as a reminder that we Canadians are quite fond of our own celebrities, especially if they don't decamp to the U.S.
Egoyan is feeling particularly happy to be Canadian at the moment, because Where The Truth Lies has garnered an NC-17 rating in the U.S. for its sexual content. It's essentially the same as an R in Ontario (only adults can see the film), but it means many American markets will be closed to him. His whole body kind of slumps as he talks about it.
"For the life of me I can't understand why they've taken this position," he says. "It's a drag for me, because I've had to shift tones in my conversation around this whole issue of freedom of expression, and this is one movie where I just wanted people to relax and have a good time."
The irony of his having made a more "accessible" film that many Americans now won't be able to see is not lost on him. The one good thing about the whole controversy is that it may raise some awareness about how the Motion Picture Association of America operates.
Egoyan got a shock when he found two extra people at the MPAA meeting: a Catholic priest and an Episcopalian minister. "They don't vote, but they actually are involved in those secret discussions" to which the director is not invited, he says. "What's interesting is that in talking to a lot of journalists in the States, I realized people aren't aware that there is that kind of clerical presence" on the ratings board."
But recently he's had reason to hope that the ratings flap is behind him.
"We had a great screening in Montreal last week and I felt back on track. People were just enjoying the movie."
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (Atom Egoyan) Rating: NNNN
Jumping back and forth between the 50s and the 70s, this sumptuous feast of a thriller offers eye and ear candy in equal measure. Alison Lohman is Karen O'Connor, an ambitious young journalist hoping to profile musical comedy duo Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and clear them of a 20-year-old murder in the process.
Egoyan is lucky to have snared three actors who don't mind goofing on their public personas. The result is a cool and gorgeous flick in the L.A. Confidential vein. My one beef is the overuse of voice-overs: once a staple of the noir genre, the device has been used so often it's become irritating.