It's rare that Canada produces something as completely batshit crazy as Where the Truth Lies. Atom Egoyan is usually quite retiscent: if he tends towards a non-naturalistic style, it's of a chilled thesis-statement variety rather than Ken Russell freak-out time. But pushed into a corner by changing funding rules, he's desperately in need of a hit, and thus tries out the Goodfellas/Boogie Nights showbiz orgy genre with spectacularly deranged results. He's waded into waters- that of excessive people trying to gratify themselves with as many drugs and sex partners as possible- in which he's hopelessly unqualified to swim, and comes up with the traumatic anti-sex downer that Larry Flynt will watch on a loop in Hell.
Only Atom Egoyan could think of Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon as ideal choices for a Martin-and-Lewis comedy team- the latter seems like an angry drunk, and the former like a private-school headmaster moonlighting for kicks. And only he would direct Alison Lohman to play a manipulative journalist as a guilt-ridden convent school girl- as if anyone determined to wheedle out facts for money would be such a passive wuss. But there they are, with the duo trying to cover up the sex-murder (by whom?) that destroyed their partnership and the latter ineptly sleuthing for the person who pulled the job.
The milieu, as it turns out, is wholly inappropriate to the man who gave us feel-bad epics like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. The we-had-evil-fun-and-then-it-all-fell-apart genre at least acknowledges the pleasures that will be paid for in the final act. But Egoyan can't even do that: you cringe when anybody smiles or shows naked flesh, because you know the hammer of shame is going to crash down on your head not long afterward. But Egoyan half-thinks that he's playing by the rules, meaning that he pours on the period outfits and ladles on the 50's/70's soundtracks. The trappings of fun are there, but they're administered by a man who makes Woody Allen look like Ted Nugent.
Atom tries to have it both ways: a sexy movie that hates sex and some non-subersive genre subversion. He can't just have an Alice in Wonderland pageant at a children's hospital: it's got to be one where Alice breathily sings the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit", so you know there's, like, subtext. Never mind that any parent would be horrified by the incursion of that druggie classic (and that any child would be given nightmares by the enormous Cheshire Cat head); never mind that the scene plays like something written by people on the planet Mars. Atom's got a point to make, and little things like sense don't enter into it.
And at last, there will be no more denying Atom's deep-seated fear and resentment of women. Self-decieved fool that he is, he thinks he's progressive for eviscerating the lie of the comedy team and through the conduits of Lohman and the corpse of Rachel Blanchard; but the women turn out to be thoughtless parasites who poison the men with guilt and responsibility. He turns the gun on himself because he thinks a woman is telling him to: thus he carries out what really isn't asked of him while hating the person who's egging him on. As a series of evasions of this final fact, the film is breathtaking in its contortions and shattering in its nihilism.
The ironic thing is it's the most entertaining movie Egoyan's ever made: you'll laugh, you'll gasp, your eyes will pop at every ill-advised moment. There's always something crazy going on in this astounding folly, which will leave you stunned at the magnitude of its insularity and self-deception.