The way Courtney Hunt’s murder trial drama “The Whole Truth” jumps straight into day one — courtroom doors swinging open and Keanu Reeves’ grim-faced defense lawyer Richard Ramsey narrating the stakes like a noir protagonist — you get the feeling you’re in for a no-nonsense whodunit. Sullen teen Mike (Gabriel Basso) hasn’t spoken since officers found him next to the stabbed body of his wealthy dad (Jim Belushi), Mike’s prints on the knife, his mousy mom (Renée Zellweger) standing nearby incredulous.
The kid’s silence — even to his attorney — means Ramsey is winging it as the trial starts, with help from his untested colleague (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), using Ramsey’s firm belief that everybody hides something.
In Rafael Jackson’s screenplay, that means each witness gets a flashback suggesting what he or she is saying doesn’t reveal everything. Nifty enough, except for the general listlessness that soon descends, and some regrettably mannered acting (expected from Reeves, but not so from Zellweger) that weakens the exposed, familiar secrets behind Mike’s fractured family.
Ultimately, it’s just odd that there’s more suspense in catching a minor character on the stand in a lie than in the big-but-guessable climax. Hunt, whose debut feature was “Frozen River,” has a steadfastly classicist approach to tried-and-true genre storytelling that’s admirable, but instead of building tension, “The Whole Truth” lets it bleed out.
‘The Whole Truth’
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
MPAA rating: R, for language and some violence including a sexual assault
Playing: Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood