Nothing But the Truth

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Nothing But the Truth Movie Poster Image
Writer jailed protecting source; strong language, violence.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 107 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Since we count on a free press to let us know when and if the government is breaking the law, allowing reporters to protect sources is important to democracy. Every choice has a consequence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rachel keeps her promise not to reveal the name of the source who told her the name of a secret CIA operative.

Violence

A woman is shot dead. A jail inmate beats up another inmate. Blood is seen.

Sex

From the back, a fully-clothed couple is seen from the shoulders up, briefly having sex. A man cheats on his wife while she's in jail.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "c--t," "damn," "hell," "ass," "p---y," "pr--k," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nothing But the Truth is a fictionalized retelling of the 2003 outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame by a U.S. Vice President's office to retaliate against her husband's public stand against the war launched by President George W. Bush against Iraq on false premises. The movie focuses on a reporter who wrote the story and her stand against the government's efforts to make her reveal who told her. Students of current events won't fail to note the movie's message about the importance of freedom of the press in covering government wrongdoing. A woman is gunned down. A jail inmate brutally beats another inmate. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," "p---y." "hell," "pr--k," and "bitch." From the back, a fully-clothed couple is seen from the shoulders up, briefly having sex. A man cheats on his wife while she's in jail. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

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What's the story?

As NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH explains, journalists are legally permitted to publicly report information they obtain, even if the information is classified. But the sources who leak such classified government information to reporters have broken the law. Here, as in the real-life story this movie is based on, government prosecutors try to force the journalist, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), to reveal her source so the government can arrest and prosecute the leaking individual. Having promised not to reveal her source, Rachel sits in jail for nearly a year, hounded by a federal prosecutor (Matt Dillon) and defended by a civil rights icon (Alan Alda). Her husband (David Schwimmer) becomes lonely and resentful as she continues to refuse to give up the source on principle. She is beaten by a fellow inmate in jail, and another woman is gunned down on her front lawn.

Is it any good?

Nothing But the Truth is an absorbing fictionalization of the true story of the outing of a covert CIA operative named Valerie Plame. Her husband, a former U.S. ambassador, was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had obtained materials to make  "weapons of mass destruction," a lie used to justify bringing down the Iraqi regime. Administration officials retaliated by illegally outing Plame to a journalist, thereby forcing her resignation. Fair Game, a 2010 movie, focused on Plame and her husband. This movie focuses on the plight of the journalist who wrote one of the news stories at the time.

Writer-director Rod Lurie blurs right and wrong, creating characters who are realistically flawed, and some downright self-serving and evil. He also adds a feminist angle, noting that women who take heroic stands are often denigrated for abdicating their roles as mothers in favor of upholding professional principles. For all the issues Lurie decided to address, he chose not to tackle the real story's worst detail -- that the government itself had leaked the name of a covert agent to get back at the agent's husband, but the reveal put her, and scores of covert CIA operatives she'd worked with around the world, at risk. The movie offers an ironic reveal of its own at the end about the identity of the source, which oddly almost undermines the entire political argument of the movie, but it makes for a good surprise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about difficult decisions people make about what is right and wrong. Do you think it's right to jail someone in order to make her reveal the sources of a news story? Why or why not?

  • What happens when the government labels something top secret just so the public won't criticize the government? Should the press be allowed to report that?

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  • How does the movie want us to view the reporter who refuses to reveal her source? How do you feel about the stand she takes when you learn who the source actually was?

  • Society doesn't usually like when its citizens break the law. How does this movie question whether certain laws themselves might be bad for society?

Movie details

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