The concept of “truth” is a constantly moving target these days, especially in the news media. It seems every faction, whether special interest groups, politicians, news pundits or broadcast/online news outlets slants their own version of “the truth” regarding a subject, event, or cause. America once thought that network news anchors were truthful and unbiased. Today, not so much.
Which brings us to “Truth.” Starring Cate Blanchett as award-winning news producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as CBS anchor Dan Rather, writer/director James Vanderbilt directorial debut examines the 2004 factual newsgathering process for a “60 Minutes II” story regarding George W. Bush’s National Guard Service (or lack thereof). The airing of this “60 Minutes” piece generated a firestorm for Mapes, Rather and CBS. Mapes and three other CBS staffers were fired subsequently fired, and Rather, too, fell from grace and was forced to resigned.
But oddly enough, the controversy wasn’t whether Bush served, but whether the Killian documents used in the report were authentic (these military reports revealed Bush being AWOL during his Texas National Guard Service). The 24-hour news cycles spun out of control raging personal attacks against Rather, Mapes, and CBS – against their ethics, their purported liberalism, and even against, among other things, Mapes being a bad daughter.
But by presenting an insider’s view of the daily workings of the revered news team as they investigate this story, Vanderbilt (and Mapes, since it’s based on her memoir, “Truth and Duty: the Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power”), are able to wrest control of the incident once again. Naysayers may be surprised to learn that the story is less about Bush’s actions, but rather the importance of “truthful” investigative journalism.
Like its predecessors – “All The President’s Men,” “Zodiak” – “Truth” is an exhilarating portrayal of news producers tracking down the facts, following leads, and making snap judgments regarding sources, documents, and probabilities. Rounding out the cast for Mapes’ team is Dennis Quaid as Lt. Col Roger Charles, a military consultant, Elisabeth Moss as journalism professor Lucy Scott, and Topher Grace as Mike Smith a freelance contributor.
Vanderbilt, who professes a fascination for journalism (he wrote and co-produced “Zodiak”), acquired the rights with producer Brad Fischer for Mapes’ memoir. Vanderbilt explains in his film’s press notes,
“I was about as aware as anybody else of the CBS scandal, but when I read the piece, I saw I clearly didn’t know a lot about what actually happened behind the scenes. Cinematically, I imagined being taken behind the curtain of what that world is like, and being able to experience it through the eyes of veteran journalists who flew so high and fell so far.”
Blanchett is once again superb as the driven Mapes, who stands behind her work. Redford too, turns in a skilled performance. It’s a challenge to see one icon playing another. As Redford explains in the film’s production notes, “I thought, I’ve got to deliver the essence of [Rather] without doing a caricature.” He succeeds.
“Truth” is not a perfect movie, at times it hits the “who’s wagging the tail” corporate journalism points too earnestly. Yet, even with its stilted imperfections, its message rates as important—it asks the public to think about what’s being reported. Just as Jon Stewart closed out his popular “The Daily Show” asking audience members to call “Bullsh*t” if something doesn’t ring right, Vanderbilt too asks viewers to be diligent. And in Rather’s words, have “Courage.”
Note: CBS announced it will not air any advertisements for the film on its network. Maybe “Truth” scares them after all.
“Truth” is 125 minutes, Rated R and is playing in Los Angeles at the ArcLight Hollywood, AMC Century City 15 and The Landmark. It opens wide on October 30.