Performances worth of Academy Award nominations highlight a politically complex drama reminiscent of All the President’s Men. Foremost among them are Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, with Noni Hazlehurst also showing the way in a small but telling scene.
Written and directed by James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man), who makes his directorial debut, Truth is based upon a memoir titled Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and The Privilege of Power by Mary Mapes. Make no mistake, the political machinations require concentration to follow.
On the morning of September 9, 2004, veteran CBS News producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) believed she had every reason to feel proud of a broadcast journalism job well done. But by the end of that day though, Mapes, CBS News and the venerable CBS News anchor Dan Rather (Redford) would come under harsh scrutiny. The evening before, the Wednesday night edition of 60 Minutes had aired an investigative report, produced by Mapes and reported on-air by Rather. In it, the program purported to reveal evidence proving that President George W. Bush had possibly shirked his duty during his service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974.
The piece claimed that Bush had not only exploited family connections and political privilege to avoid the Vietnam War by joining the Guard. It asserted he had failed for many months to fulfill his most basic Guard obligation, namely simply showing up on base. Mapes and her team of researchers had met a tight deadline to pull together both on-air eyewitness testimony and newly disclosed documents to make their case and they felt confident that their story was solid.
In the lead-up to the 2004 Bush vs. Kerry presidential election, the “Bush-Guard” story could have had profound ramifications. But within days of the story breaking, Bush’s military service record was no longer the focus of media and public scrutiny. Instead, it was 60 Minutes, Mapes and Rather who were under fire.
The documents supporting their investigation were denounced as forgeries and the 60 Minutes staff were accused of shoddy journalism and, perhaps, as bad, of being duped. The story unfolds from Mapes’ perspective and it is as intriguing as it is complicated. At stake are journalistic integrity and independence.
For Vanderbilt it was a fascination with journalism that initially drew him to the project. He had grown up with All the President’s Men and wrote and co-produced Zodiac, which focused upon the San Francisco Chronicle. Vanderbilt has always been interested about what goes on in newsrooms. He wanted to know when a big story breaks on 60 Minutes, what happens next? As he puts it, “how does the sausage get made?”
What a powder keg of a yarn, put together in all its glory (or should that be assembled in gory detail) by Blanchett, Redford and co. You can’t take your eyes off the pair. They are so intoxicating. In particular, it is Blanchett’s intensity and Redford’s earnestness that are compelling. They inhabit their characters’ skin.
While All the President’s Men dealt with Watergate, Truth deals with modern politics and, due to its treatment, is less accessible than the former film. Some will undoubtedly find the going tough because it isn’t easy to get a handle on the fine detail, but the bigger picture stuff is another matter. So much is at stake here because it goes to the heart of a President’s integrity as well as journalistic integrity. The tentacles appears to spread far and wide and that leads me to question whether the filmmakers could have modified the octopus-like nature of the story for ease of audience understanding. But then again, that would short-circuit the truth and, after all, that is the name of the game here. It is merely whose version of the truth you believe.
Rated M, Truth scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: James Vanderbilt
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid
Release Date: 3 December, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television