“Did you talk to Jeff?” director Rod Lurie asked me on the opening night of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, referring to Jeff Bridges, a.k.a. “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski,” who also played the president in “The Contender.”

The atmosphere on the Arlington Theatre’s red carpet last Thursday was surprisingly low-key, so much so that Lurie, director of opening night film “Nothing But the Truth” and critically acclaimed 2000 political thriller “The Contender,” took the time to talk to a Nexus reporter. Perhaps the red carpet would have been more chaotic if Lurie’s opening night film, “Nothing But the Truth” had a distributor.

Earlier that evening, Lurie had claimed that Jeff Bridges is Barack Obama’s favorite movie president. “You should ask him about that when he walks by,” Lurie said. (I tried to, but a middle-school journalist stole my question. “Me?” Bridges responded, and that was that).

When asked about his unusual decision of casting Kate Beckinsale as a hard-hitting journalist, Lurie gave a refreshingly honest explanation.
“She actually came to me for a role,” he said. Lurie was convinced of her talent after watching David Gordon Green’s latest film, “Snow Angels,” and chatting with Martin Scorsese… but I still wasn’t.
I was wrong. “Nothing But the Truth” is not a perfect film, but it succeeds as the rare thriller that actually lives up to its genre’s title.

Beckinsale adds a convincing touch of vulnerability to her role as Rachel Armstrong, a print journalist who outs the identity of a CIA agent in a front-page news story. (The idea was inspired by the Valerie Plume and Judith Miller cases, but the plot is pure fiction.) Rachel refuses to disclose her main source, even after a judge rules that she is required by law to do so, leading to her arrest.

Watching Rachel’s dignity slowly erode in jail — the most degrading instance is probably the fully-clothed conjugal sex scene with her disinterested husband – is far more disturbing than any of the more outwardly violent scenes. No one, not even the audience, is told who her source is, which made me wonder: Is Rachel really defending journalistic principles, or she keeping quiet for a more selfish, sinister reason?

This question gets answered in the final scene, ending the film with an intensity that was drastically different from the mellow red carpet reception just two hours earlier.