'A Dark Truth' fails to find the light
By Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Can't come up with a single reason to recommend this leaden excuse for an eco-thriller, which one Damian Lee claims to have written and directed. Pitting corporate bad guys against saintly Third Worlders, "A Dark Truth" wears a bleeding heart on its sleeve, a designer appliqué of empty liberal platitudes. The story leapfrogs from person to person, place to place, trying desperately to weave wayward threads into a compelling pattern. And some awful plague of glum-and-grim afflicts the whole cast, most notably Andy Garcia and Forest Whitaker. Perhaps Lee believed long faces would lend weight to his "Dark Truth."
You know the movie's a badly oiled machine from the get-go: Lee cuts back and forth between South American villagers being massacred by machine gun and a Canadian talk show host (Garcia) sermonizing about the basic goodness of humankind. You may feel bludgeoned and/or distracted by these erratically juxtaposed realities. The heavy hand presses on: The talk show's called "The Truth" and the host's moniker is Jack Begosian -- a tip of the fedora to Eric Bogosian of "Talk Radio." This particular host is a former CIA agent, and so severe his haircut, so penitential his delivery, the dude might as well be wearing sackcloth and ashes. At home, Jack's stone face cracks a little, to let in even more pain, as his wife whines about his emotional "absence," while his little boy -- autistic? mentally challenged? -- prefers staring at a clock to eating.
Elsewhere, a fully clothed blonde (Deborah Kara Unger of "Silent Hill") sinks lugubriously into her bathtub. What's got her down? Cut to a hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony, where a wild-eyed Ecuadoran dude blows his head off, splattering the bathtub lady's haute couture with unpleasant bodily fluids. Then cut to saintly campesino Francisco Francis (Whitaker) fleeing through the jungle, stopping only to beat a soldier to death with a rock. Back to the icy-blue environs of a Toronto corporate tower, where Bruce Swinton (Kim Coates, his "Sons of Anarchy" pervy machismo neutered) surveys the world at his feet. All that threatens his billion-dollar African deal to virtually control water-purification rights is a leak about all the Ecuadorans his company murdered after tainting their drinking water. Wouldn't you know that the woman trying to wash off blood and guilt in her bathtub is Bruce's sister Morgan, who up until now has been satisfied with the empty life of a much-married socialite.
The stage, all over the map, is set. Morgan Swinton grows a conscience and bankrolls Begosian's investigatory trip to Ecuador. There, Jack gets a chance to win absolution from the rebel he once did wrong. Corporate sharks will pay and autistic sons will smile. But before all that can come to pass, assassins and banana-republic hirelings must throw some lead in the direction of the good guys. Big action scenes -- shoot-outs in the jungle and on the streets of Toronto -- ensue, bereft of the slightest kinetic energy and logic. Ponderously executed, they are as exciting as slow-moving traffic.
To sell his low-rent flicks, Lee typically exploits stars who either have fallen off or never quite made the A-list. Sadly, once locked into a hackneyed script like Lee's latest, life seems to drain from their faces as well as their acting, so that they become cardboard versions of themselves. Whitaker makes us long for his cannibal king of Scotland; his wet-eyed Jesus is so saccharine-sweet and forgiving the character tips over into caricature. Eva Longoria is no more than window- -- excuse me, jungle-dressing, and Unger, once a major Cronenberg hottie, may actually have arrived on set with paralyzed facial muscles. The film's single -- and transitory -- live wire is the striking Kevin Durand ("Lost," "Cosmopolis"), a high-powered hit man whose perversely ethical behavior recalls that of the conflicted shooter Rupert Friend plays on "Homeland."
The darkest truth to be faced about Damian Lee's dud is that gullible Canucks, among them the estimable Kim Coates, were actually persuaded to fund, market and release it.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.