In the years since 1976's All the President's Men, when little boys and girls wanted to morph into Woodward and Bernstein, journalists have become pariahs the public can't stand, let alone trust. So it's ballsy for starters that writer-director Rod Lurie (The Contender) has chosen to make a fierce,fire-breathing movie, laced with stinging laughs, about a D.C. reporter, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), who prefers to go to jail rather than rat out a source. Rachel's story blows the cover of CIA operative Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga), another soccer mom at the school Rachel's son attends. The feds, personified by special prosecutor Patton Dubois (a splendid, sneaky Matt Dillon), are suddenly eager to throw Rachel's ass behind bars. Her newspaper hires hotshot lawyer Albert Burnside (Alan Alda). But even this smooth operator knows that since 9/11, national security trumps the First Amendment every time.
While watching Rachel rot, you recall New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who did jail time for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame and refusing to name her source. But Lurie wisely dodges docudrama or bringing Rachel too much in line with Miller, who earned public censure for printing WMD stories that she was spoon-fed by Bush wonks.
Lurie is expert at springing surprises and getting the best out of a first-rate cast. Beckinsale excels at finding the chinks in Rachel's armor. Farmiga goes so deep into her character you can feel her nerve endings. And Alda is simply superb as a lawyer whose peacock vanity about his designer wardrobe hardly prepares you for his moving argument for principles before the Supreme Court. Lurie also convinced Floyd Abrams, who represented Miller in court, to play the trial judge, and the canny counselor steals every scene he's in. Nothing But the Truth is currently in distribution hell, which means you might have to seek it out. It's worth the trouble. Lurie has crafted a different kind of thriller, one with a mind and a heart.