The problem with most courtroom dramas is that they lack the intrigue and mystery needed to keep the audience glued through constant conversation with very little action. The few films that have managed to pull off this feat, including A Time To Kill and Primal Fear, have gone on to be considered some of cinema’s most essential titles. The Whole Truth may have the look and feel of its genre’s most notable entries, but its story lacks the tension needed to make the film anything worth remembering.
Keanu Reeves stars as Richard Ramsey, a clean-cut defense attorney who has recently taken on a case where he must prove a teenage client (Gabriel Basso) did not murder their father (Jim Belushi). This case is a personal one for Ramsey as he and the boy’s widowed mother, Loretta Lassiter (Renée Zellweger), have a long and complicated history. Ramsey swears to Loretta that he can clear her son’s name, and to do so he presents evidence about the kind of man her husband really was behind closed doors. The dark revelations help to move attention away from Ramsey’s client, but it also leads his colleague, Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to begin an investigation of her own.
If The Whole Truth were a pilot for a new hour-long drama on one of the major networks it would be good enough to air in primetime, but as a feature-length film it is overlong and dry. What little mystery does exist in the story is barely enough to surprise viewers, let alone sustain their excitement for the final reveal. The film desperately wants to convince you that Ramsey’s client may be guilty, but as the film presents literally no other options than the one Ramsey creates it’s easy to see through the film’s simplistic diversion.
To their credit, the cast of The Whole Truth do the best to make the most out of lackluster material. Reeves in particular is great, showcasing a side of himself audiences may not have seen since the release of The Devil’s Advocate in 1997. Ramsey is a layered individual burdened with more information than he knows how to properly process. He presents himself as calm and collected, but in the few moments where we see him left to his own devices the weight of his situation begins to settle in, and that is when Reeves shines brightest.
Also notable is the work of Renée Zellweger, who makes her second big screen appearance of 2016 with this feature. There has been much discussion about the legendary actress’ physical appearance in recent months, but what people should really be talking about is how she took years away from movies and returned just as good (if not better) than we remember. Loretta could have been a stereotypical procedural mother-victim trying to both grieve for her husband and fight for her son, but Zellweger chooses to approach the material with greater, more complex emotions in tow.
When the final verdict comes and all is finally revealed The Whole Truth’s efforts to create a ‘gotcha’ moment amount more to a shoulder shrug than a dropped jaw. Everything the film has established with its characters and world go from sizzle to fizzle so fast you’re stunned by how surface-level the whole affair turned out to be. It’s one decent idea stretched 30 minutes longer than necessary, and no amount of good acting can hide the fact that it’s a subpar story in a time where there are dozens of similar entertainment options with far more grit.