The Whole Truth

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Whole Truth Movie Poster Image
Tense courtroom drama has violence, sex, language.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 93 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Don't trust anyone; people lie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Attorney Ramsay is upset because his client won't cooperate in his own defense. The client, a 17-year-old boy charged with murdering his father, hasn't spoken since the day of the crime. In the past, he'd tried to protect his mother from his abusive father. A man cheats repeatedly on his wife.


At the mention of divorce, a character threatens his wife's life. A man's body is found on the floor, his shirt soaked with blood, an dagger sticking in his chest. A man is shown violently having standing sex, seemingly forcing his wife from behind as she seemingly protests. A young man claims he's been raped.


As woman enters the shower, her naked behind and breast are briefly seen in profile. A married woman is having an affair, and it appears that her cheating husband knows.


Regular use of words including "f--k," "s--t," and "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Whole Truth is a courtroom drama with enough strong language, violence, and sex to make it too mature for younger viewers. A man is found stabbed to death on his bedroom floor with blood soaking his shirt and a large dagger sticking out of his chest. Scenes of physical and verbal abuse are shown in flashback, including one in which a man seems to be forcing sex on his wife. Rape is described, and adultery is discussed. A woman's naked profile (breast, bottom) is shown briefly. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "ass." Adults drink and smoke.

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What's the story?

Everyone lies. So says Richard Ramsay (Keanu Reeves), a criminal defense lawyer who's struggling to clear a client accused of murder in THE WHOLE TRUTH. And that's the movie's early signal that everything anyone says should be met with scrutiny and skepticism. As the narrator of this John Grisham-esque courtroom drama, Ramsay explains the dos and don'ts of getting clients off. He hasn't always succeeded, and he's particularly worried he'll lose this time. And this case has special significance: The victim was Ramsay's friend, Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi), a wealthy New Orleans lawyer found stabbed to death in his home. His 17-year-old son, Mike (Gabriel Basso), appears to have confessed to the police but has refused to speak since, making it nearly impossible to craft his defense. In court, Boone's abusiveness and cheating are slowly revealed. Perhaps he beat his wife, Loretta (Renee Zellweger). Perhaps he was the worst father imaginable. Flashbacks show us his rage; his verbal abuse; his controlling, overbearing nature; and more. When Mike insists on testifying without first telling Ramsay what he's going to say, Ramsay's hands are tied. But, even then, will the story be fully told?

Is it any good?

This legal drama has nagging loose ends that could bother compulsive puzzle-solvers, but they don't detract from the movie's general enjoyability. Specific nitpicking would require giving away crucial plot twists, so we'll leave it at that. Especially since the twists bring to mind better, older (and tamer!) procedurals like Witness for the Prosecution and Anatomy of a Murder. Overall, if you don't think about it too much, The Whole Truth will provide the type of no-frills, entertaining-but-forgettable satisfaction you'd get from watching an extra-long episode of Law & Order. It's competent, well composed, and packs just enough of a surprise to provide a nice "aha" at the end.

Reeves slumps and pouts as the gloomy defense lawyer, his face heavy with the responsibility of keeping his friends' young son out of prison -- and, perhaps, other matters, too. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw holds up her end as Janelle, the young attorney supporting Ramsay during the trial. Though it feels as if the filmmakers meant for her to play a key role in discovering the truth behind the mysterious murder, but she doesn't take more than a feeble stab at it before fading away. In the end, her character is really unnecessary, a seeming afterthought by a busy screenwriter trying to write a pretty, younger actor into the action.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Whole Truth. How does it compare to what you might see in an action or superhero movie? Do all kinds of media violence have the same impact?

  • Why are legal thrillers are so captivating? Do you think real-life court cases are ever this twisty and surprising?

  • The American justice system says every person deserves a defense, even if the person appears to be guilty. Do you think lawyers find it hard to defend clients they believe are guilty?

Movie details

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