Insight into South Asia

Nothing but the Truth (2008 – English Movie)

Suppose I have information about the thief who robbed my neighbor, say.  Even if the government wants that information, it cannot force me to reveal the details of the thief.  Even if its the location of the Sandal-smuggler Veerappan, it is the Govt’s job to investigate and find out the location.  That is why, the liason “Nakeeran Gopal” cannot be arrested and forced to give out the location of Veerappan.  Especially, the journalists need that protection.

Now, what if the information and the source, that the journalists are protecting, are a threat to National Security?  Say, some military official is revealing details about secret military bases to some journalists, probably because gross human rights violations are happening there.  Can the journalists still have the right to protect the source?  Which is higher priority?  National Security, or Freedom of Speech?  That is a grave dilemma.  And it lends itself to a nice story.

Nothing but the Truth (2008)

Directed by Rod Lurie

US Govt asks a journalist to reveal her source and she refuses.  So she is jailed, and her attorney speaks at the Supreme Court:

In 1972, this [Supreme] Court ruled against the right of reporters to withhold the names of their sources before a grand jury, and it gave the power to the government to imprison those reporters who did.  It was a five-four decision.  Close.  In his dissent, Justice Stewart wrote, “As the years pass, the 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.”   Well, the years have passed, and that power is pervasive.  Ms.Armstrong could have buckled to the demands of the government.  She could have abandoned her promise of confidentiality.  She could have simply gone home to her family.  But to do so, would mean that no source would ever speak to her again, her newspaper again, and then tomorrow when we lock up journalists from other newspapers, we will make those publications irrelevant as well, and thus we will make the First Amendment(freedom of press) irrelevant.

And then how will we know if a president has covered up crimes?  Or if an army officer has condoned torture?  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 shudder 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.

Sometime ago, I began to feel the personal human pressure on Rachel Armstrong, and I told her that I was there to represent her and not a principle.  And it was not until I met her that I realized that with great people, there is no difference between principle and the person.

That’s a long quote to start a movie review.  Would be nice to watch it as a video clip, but its not available yet.


Director, Rod Lurie

Director, Rod Lurie

This movie was inspired by the Joseph Wilson episode, under the Bush regime [details at the end of the review].  But the story is not meant to be exact.  Lurie has crafted a wonderful story around what could happen, with the above dilemma, with added idealism, by  building a set of very believable and stunning characters.  This would have won several nominations at the Academy, if not for the screwed up economy that prevented the movie from even getting released!  Now released direct to DVD, it is a splendid drama that provokes the audience to ask themselves a lot of deep troubling questions, to assess their own value systems.  “I love the idea of taking the audience and having them reevaluate the film, the motivations and the characters” says Lurie.


There were several subtle and profound scenes in this movie, but its too early to provide youtube clips.

Vera Farmiga is the American spy getting revealed by the journalist Kate Beckinsale.  Their first encounter, in the above scene, was only the tip of what they both have done through the entire movie!  Vera’s performance on every scene has tremendous emotions revealing the true character that Lurie has built up.  Kate, playing the lead role, delivers a lifetime performance.  She has to face the relentless prosecutor (Matt Dillon) in her fight, and she spends more than a year in prison for not revealing the source of her news article.  Her husband leaves her, and she is distanced from her little son.  Her life turns around completely, for her principle.  The movie has a sweet twist at the end, and that would force many to watch the movie again.  But the real strength of the movie is the splendid characters and their interaction.  Scene after scene, we feel the heat and pressure of the characters.  When the tough prosecutor Matt Dillon tells Kate, that he is only doing his job, using his rights, Kate replies: “I think you are confusing your rights with your power.”  The Attorney (Alan Alda), the Lawyer(Noah Wyle), the Editor(Angela Bassett) were having their own distinct styles, that make you immerse in the plot.  The introductory piece of the movie, that shows how an otherwise few weeks arrest procedure turns into an overnight arrest, was remarkable.  David Schwimmer, playing the husband of the journalist, was outstanding, watching how quickly the events unfold!  An amazing piece of work by Lurie.

The movie succeeds in contrasting the power imbalance between government and its citizens, and how terrorizing it is!  In almost every scene that Matt Dillon appears, there are numerous cues that sends shrills to our spines.



The following piece is not necessary to appreciate the movie, but it would be a useful background context for Indian audience.

Before the invasion of Iraq War, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was asked to investigate if Saddam Hussein purchased, or attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger.  He finished the investigation and gave his report to the US Government.  Later in several important speeches, Colin Powell to the UN, and Bush to the American public through the State of the Union speech, were quoting that they have facts to prove that Saddam is acquiring uranium, and hence is an imminent threat to the world!  That claim was the basis for the Iraq invasion, at least thats how it was justified before the war.  4 months into the Iraq war, Joseph Wilson wrote an editorial in NewYork Times with the title “What I did NOT find in Africa.”   Yes!  His now famous article showed the world that Bush and his team lied to all, in their thirst to invade Iraq.  Wilson’s report concluded no link between Saddam and uranium.  Of course, this triggered a political storm, and immediately the Bush scoundrels in Washington leaked a vital information about Joseph Wilson’s wife.  She was a secret government agent, simply an American Spy.  Leaking this information was their way of punishing the Wilson family for exposing Bush’s lie, and to weakening the credibility of Wilson’s NewYork Times article (that Wilson was not qualified to do the Niger investigation and was recommended by his wife etc).  But, revealing such National Security information is a serious crime in US.  And the dirty fight that followed, and the debate beween journalism/security is recorded as an important event in American History.  This movie is inspired by the above events.

Filed under: Entertainment, Movies, , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses

  1. Sounds like a fantastic movie!

    Which is higher priority? National Security, or Freedom of Speech?

    I am quite sure the majority of those that those who favour the so-called “national security” would be Third Worlders (or those with a typically backward and primitve Third World mindset) while those who favour freedom of speech would be First Worlders (or those with a First World mindset).

  2. vikadakavi says:

    I felt many times that there are pleasant examples around our lives, that we take for granted. ‘Backward/primitive mindset’ and ThirdWorld are not correlated. That is why, this is a debate even in the Western world. Primitive mindsets are everywhere.

    Infact, in India, the so-called ThirdWorld mindset has drafted a Constitution that stands in par with American Constitution (and far better than that of UK), according to Constitution experts. Not only that… the draftsman of the Constitution, from his grave, was able to inspire a paratha master Veerapandyan!

  3. malarthamil says:

    Who is calling Ambedkar a third world mindset?
    Intellectual from a dalit community like ambedkar could know the depth of a matter since they come from the bottom to which a non dalit is never exposed. The rest are in the layers above.

    Any one ,either national security intersts or the freedom of expression should ultimately confirm to Virtue which is even above the constitution of a nation. See how a good word like Virtue ( Aram or dharma)is used in Silappathikaaram so strongly

    “Virtue shall kill who do mistakes in politics”

    ( meaning – The punishment for a ruler for committing a mistake is death )

  4. Ronin says:

    I did not want to comment abt this incident earlier as it is disturbing:

    There was a reporter for Nakeeran(Siva Subramaniam, I think he is still in Jail). He was involved in interviewing Veerappan. The police arrested the reporter. He was given Shocks in his sexual organ. And he was hung in a inverted position as part of interrogation. Our “brave” IPS officer Vijay Kumar put a pistol in his mouth and threatened him..

    I want to remind you, he was the reporter and not the smuggler. he was doing his job..And later Vijaya Kumar “killed” Veerapan.

    I am only reminded of my father saying this abt our VijayaKumar, When VijayaKumar was suspended(dont know the details) in MGRs regime(1980s), he saw a depressed Vijayakumar spending his time in JJs office..Mind you she was not even a MP or MLA then..Obviously he was there to put pressure on MGR thru Jayalalitha to get reinstated..

    He returned the favor by becoming a fake hero…I always find it silly, when he walks upright..

  5. S c o r p says:

    The review is great. I have already planned to get this DVD :).

    Talking about political dramas and the theme of Nothing but the Truth, there is one another German movie called ‘Lives of Others’ which also is talks about how the government ruthlessly violates the rules and interferes in the lives of ordinary people. I’ll post the review next week. Great review Vikatakavi !!

    PS:- I was surprised to find Mat Dillon in such a kind of a movie! But it’s gud to see him playing serious roles ..

  6. S c o r p says:

    Aaaarrrghh!!! How many times I hv reminded myself to review the comment be4 posting it, and how many times I hv forgot to review !! Typos !! 🙂 🙂

    • Ronin says:

      30 is the new 20
      Communication is the new language

      I would nt sweat over typos..Like Jyovram pointed to me, Language is a limitation to communication..

  7. S c o r p says:

    Absolutely !! Great man !! It’s da same movie!!!

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