Taking a punt on movie choices can mean that often you wind up seeing something that's a bit of a dud. I usually prefer to have some idea about a movie before I watch it, even if it only costs me a couple of dollars from the Public Library. However, last week I picked up three movies (we haven't watched the third) and the first two turned out to be crackers.
One was Nothing but the Truth, which apparently didn't get much of a theatrical distribution for reasons that are beyond my understanding, in spite of having a top-notch cast: Kate Beckingsale, Alan Alda, Matt Dillon, Noah Wylie, Angela Bassett and Vera Farmiga, an actress who plays her roles with such intensity that the television screen threatens to go on fire. The film is based on a true-life case about a political reporter who refused to reveal the source of her story, and wound up in gaol for months. However, the scriptwriter and director, Rod Lurie, has rewritten the thing from the ground up, changing all the details and the background, so that the film is presented as a proper drama, not as a piece trying to fit around a real-life episode. It's all the stronger for this, and allows Lurie to write excellent roles for his cast, none of whom let him down.
Beckingsale's character is given the chance to write a piece for her major newspaper that will expose a female CIA agent, but refuses to name her source. This refusal gets her into deep trouble with the Government, and she is thrown into jail by a heavy-handed judge (the actor, in real life, was an attorney in the original case). This causes havoc to the CIA agent and her family, to the reporter's own family and doesn't, in the end, let her off the hook. It's a tough film made tougher by the insistence on principles that the reporter clings to, and which she finally brings her lawyer around to. You may guess the surprise ending - my wife did, but I didn't; it neatly rounds the film off.
The other film was originally played over four nights on British television. It's called Father & Son, and stars Dougray Scott, Sophie Okonedo, Ian Hart and Stephen Rea. It's a gripping piece that doesn't turn out the way you might expect; it's violent and dark, but it's about integrity and the idea that eventually the choices you make in life have to be for the sake of others or else you die from the inside out.
The story concerns a career criminal, Michael O'Connor, who wants to put all his bad behaviour behind him. Unfortunately things aren't as easy as that, and he's forced to decide whether he will amend things he's done wrong properly, or only partially. His teenage son, Sean, (Reece Noi), the child of a mixed marriage, is accused of a gang retaliation murder, though we know from the beginning that he's innocent. O'Connor hasn't seen his son in a while after his wife was murdered about five years back and there's considerable bitterness in the boy. But behind the bitterness, we eventually learn, there's a great deal more going on than we first suspect, and part of the story is about the reconciliation required between O'Connor and his son, a reconciliation that needs to take place before things can be healed. There are father and son connections throughout the story, none of them very satisfactory at the start, and a host of brilliantly drawn and played characters. Part of the story is also the truth about the murder that took place some years before, and how it fits into all the other elements.
Scott plays a tough man who seems at first to have matured; but we learn that his seeming vulnerability towards his new wife and unborn child is only skin-deep. It takes far more to bring his true self to the surface. He's surrounded by duplicitous characters - the links between different people turns out to be nastier than we expect - and it takes a good deal of sorting out. The writer was Frank Deasy - he died about the same time the series aired. He had written the last episode in the Prime Suspect series, and the same grittiness is apparent here.