Keanu Reeves Sat In The Back Of A Real Murder Trial To Prepare For ‘The Whole Truth’
by Lea Palmieri
Arriving on VOD today is The Whole Truth, a courtroom drama starring Keanu Reeves as a lawyer who must defend a teen boy (Gabriel Basso) who appears to be the only suspect in the murder of his father (Jim Belushi), while his mother (Renee Zellweger) watches on.
The film is suspenseful, and will cause your neck to tighten as it flashes between scenes in the courtroom, and the family’s home where the murder took place. It will have you second-guessing yourself, and wondering if this scenario is truly what it seems to be. Hint: it’s not! But it’s up to Reeves’ Ramsay, and his associate Janelle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, ever supreme in the screen time she’s given, to get to the bottom of it all. Here’s an exclusive clip of the film, where Janelle reveals to Reeves all the times her BS-detector went off during the trial that day.
We’re very much in the middle of a big true crime phase right now, so this movie will appeal to many of the people who enjoy things like Making a Murderer or The Night Of. Are you also a big fan of those types of shows?
I do like them. I find them to be very interesting. I also think the reality of how crime happens, having practiced law and having read millions of transcripts and sat through trials, the very flawed way that crime happens as opposed to the way we have portrayed it in the past, is really interesting to me. Murderers screw everything up. They screw things up and mistakes are made. And the reason people kill, and the way they kill, is so different than the old fashioned version of it. So, yes, I love this true crime thing.
How much did your law background help with this film?
I’m actually a lawyer and I graduated from law school and my husband practiced criminal defense so I would often second seat his trials. So, like Janelle, I could be the female at the table who makes defendants seem more sympathetic. That’s what he was doing, and we would actually talk about it. Every movement in a courtroom is choreographed to advocate for your client, so we talked about that. And that helped me. It’s actually the reason I was interested in this project to begin with, because I feel like the morality and legality conundrum that a lawyer representing a criminal defendant has to deal with is really interesting. At what point do they cross the line or not cross the line? And how much stress goes into representing somebody and making a mistake that may send them to jail for a long, long time? You have so much responsibility. I watch my husband endure that kind of responsibility and it’s so stressful.
How did you keep the mood so tense when you were shooting in the courtroom?
I’m glad you feel it was tense. We kept it tense because it was a courtroom. Because the whole crew and I, along with Keanu, went to court. We went to New Orleans state court and watched a murder trial and sat in the back row and felt the feelings. And the tension in these real trials is obviously super high. So we tried to bring that in, and also we were stuck shooting in this one room for however many days it was, and it was tense. It was. Being in a small space like that, it was like the trailer in Frozen River, it was intense.
Oh, I felt it. It was interesting the way this movie played out, flashing to scenes of the murder in between courtroom scenes. It kind of felt like a puzzle and I’m wondering if it felt like that to you? Did it feel like you had to figure out where to place things to fit the story?
Yes, although a lot of that was in the script. The script very much parsed out information over the course of the trial. What was more interesting to me was the way people remember stuff and the little flashes we had, like when you’re sitting in a courtroom and all you have to go on is your memory. Everything is reliant on what people remember and memory is flawed. Memory is screwed up. Sometimes you remember what you want to remember. So, to me, that was the interesting thing that kept me exploring as an artist. How do we remember? And when do we remember? And when is our memory tainted? And what can that mean? People’s whole lives can be ruined by somebody’s tainted memory.
Something as simple as the word “I” specifically makes a very big difference in the film. Even though I just saw the scene 10 seconds before the police officer was testifying, I still was like “Wait, what did I hear and did I hear it correctly?”
Exactly. But that’s how life really is. That’s the truth that people hear it wrong, they hear what they want to hear. Sometimes they change it in their memory. But memory is so imperfect. You could have 10 people witness the same car wreck and they will all tell you something different.
How it was for you directing a character who has no dialogue for such a long time? Everything that he needed to portray was completely in his facial expressions. Was that a challenge and did it keep you on your toes?
Well, Gabe is a wonderful, natural, gifted actor so yes, it kept us on our toes but he’s very very bright and he knew where he was supposed to be, what he was feeling. It’s almost like he had a script in terms of his reactions, in terms of when he didn’t react, because it was all in his face. Now, off-camera, he basically never shut up, but he made up for it that way. He never stopped talking, but on-camera, his canvas was his face and his hands and how he moved and his body and his posture. And he really embraced that.
Did you have several options for the ending? Did you shoot additional options or is this the way that it was?
No, the question came down to what we showed and what we didn’t show. So we had everything shot. The question is: did we need it? Did we want to go all the way to showing the whole truth at the very tail end, or did we need it? That was the only question we asked and we asked it ad nauseam until our heads bled because that was a tough one. It was hard to get a sense of what the audience was going to land with.