I had to practically drag Michael to see this last night, but it was playing right nearby so he sucked it up and came with me. His reaction afterwards was that the movie wasn’t as bad as he thought, and mine was that I may have to stop trusting The New York Times movie reviews with which I don’t always agree but more so lately. Stephen Holden called the movie “a gripping, beautifully executed journalistic thriller” and Cate Blanchett’s performance “one of her best.” I respectfully say, “Not so fast.”
Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, a well-respected producer for CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” whose on-air talent, Dan Rather, is her surrogate father of sorts (Robert Redford plays Rather). Based on Mapes’ book, “Truth” takes us inside the newsroom during an investigation into whether family strings were pulled to get George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard so he could escape the draft during the Vietnam War. What’s more, Mapes and her team set out to prove that Bush didn’t show up for his physical, went AWOL for a long period of time and that the truth of his military record was covered up. The lead-up to the airing of Mapes’ broadcast is indeed suspenseful, as we wonder who among the various characters, both political and military, will go on the record and/or turn over documents. And when the story does air, Mapes, Rather and crew celebrate, thinking they’ve broken big news and their bosses at CBS News will be pleased.
The bosses are pleased….at first. Then the pushback begins as others question Mapes’ sources and whether she and Rather were just trying to tarnish Bush’s reputation during the critical 2004 election. Many twists and turns follow involving fonts and typefaces and whether Mapes truly had authentic documents in her possession. Ultimately, Rather was forced to step down as the “Evening News” anchor, which essentially ended his career, and Mapes was fired out right, ending hers. (In a postscript, we learn that her earlier report on Abu Ghraib won a Peabody Award for the network.)
“Truth” asks valid and interesting questions about television journalism and I enjoyed that aspect of the film. Did Mapes’ and Rather’s own political bias affect their ability to do their jobs on the story? Or did they simply want to expose the truth about a chapter in the personal history of a presidential candidate? Did CBS genuinely have concerns about their fact-gathering methods or did they cave in to political pressure from their corporate (and more conservative) bosses?
Supporting characters are first-rate: Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Stacey Keach, Elisabeth Moss. And the dialogue is crackling and smart at times, heavy-handed and speech-y at others. The movie is overly long and becomes tedious once the piece on Bush airs, and Blanchett, although playing a high-strung character, is actress-y and over the top.
After the brilliance of “Spotlight” the other day, a film that covered the journalism profession without theatrics, “Truth” was a letdown.