Where The Truth Lies
Can I tell you about a little ethical dilemma I had last week? The Buffalo alt-weekly, the ArtVoice, asked me to review the new Atom Egoyan film, Where The Truth Lies. It’s a whole lot more fun to write about things I like than things I don’t, and I did not like this film. Which was a bit awkward because I’ve been an Egoyan fan for years. I’ve seen virtually everything he’s made, and because he is Toronto’s best-loved film celebrity, I’ve witnessed him speak many times. He’s smart, articulate, and really understands this art form.
A year ago, I was having a conversation with the manager of a local art-house theater. He told me something curious: the lead paragraph of the review in the local press — there are only two major publications here: the mainstream Buffalo News and the alt ArtVoice — can sometimes have a big influence on a film’s local box-office numbers. To contrast two leads: (1) Dogville got an excellent review that opened with the words: “This is a challenging three-hour movie” (the movie lasted barely a week); while (2) Swimming Pool got a lukewarm review that started off with something like “It’s been a while since a major-release European film boasted this much nudity.” (The movie played for three months.)
It would just be too easy to destroy the Egoyan movie with a snarky review. (And I was tempted, I confess.) I happened to mention this dilemma to a friend who suggested sagely, “Why not use the sandwich approach? Open with something nice, then say the bad stuff, then close with something nice.” I also happened to remember J. Hoberman’s review of Todd Solondz’s Palindromes, a movie I hated with all my heart. He wrote a fascinating piece, full of ideas, without every really indicating whether he liked the film or not. I later discovered that he had disliked the film — it just wasn't evident from his write-up.
In my review of Where The Truth Lies, the most generous words I ended up using were “interesting” and “stylish”, and I sandwiched all my criticisms in the middle of the piece. The all-important lead paragraph? It was spent on the film’s close brush with NC-17. And the review opened with that mighty word: “Sex”. If sex was the only reason some people were going to see this film, by jove I wasn’t going to stop them. In fact, I was going to help Egoyan by sending them his way.
If you're interested, the review is over here in pdf format, on page 22.