“Truth” had a limited theatrical release earlier this month, but was released locally in the Houston area beginning yesterday.
In 2004, while President George W. Bush was looking to get re-elected for a second term in the White House, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) chose to run a story that questioned whether or not President Bush received preferential treatment in the 1970s during his time in the Texas Air National Guard. Mapes was the producer of 60 Minutes and had a close working relationship with news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford).
After running their story, Mapes, her crew, and the entirety of 60 Minutes received the backlash of possible forgery, leads backing out on their word, and leaking information to opposing political parties. The corruption lead to Mapes losing her job and Rather eventually stepping away from the lead anchor position.
It’s interesting to note that this is not only James Vanderbilt’s feature film debut as a director, but that he also wrote the film. Vanderbilt is known for writing films such as “The Amazing Spider-Man” films and “The Losers,” but most notably Vanderbilt wrote David Fincher’s “Zodiac.” “Truth” is extremely reminiscent of “Zodiac” in the sense that loads of time is devoted to portraying each step of the investigation process with gold nuggets like standout performances and moments of intrigue being sprinkled throughout in tiny bursts.
Much of the film is devoted to following half-cocked leads and tracking down a story that may or may not exist. Mapes enlists the help of Lt. Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss), and Mike Smith (Topher Grace) to round out her investigative team. They follow a paper trail seemingly littered with dead ends throughout much of the film’s over two hour duration. It’s overly tedious and the first half of the film is incredibly dull because of it.
The film seems to lack tension or any sort of memorable appearance by any of the actors. The dramatically political film is forcefully straightforward when it comes to its story and it often feels flat since it’s very one dimensional in nature. The audience is thrown into this investigation where you feel like one of Mapes’ team as they edit down to the final two minutes before airtime or call a potential lead 19 times.
Thankfully events in the film pick up once everyone starts lying about everything and the forgery claims occur. Topher Grace is surprisingly superb in his role as Mike Smith. Smith is pinching pennies and really needs a job when Mapes brings him in. Grace adds that motor mouth wit you’ve come to expect from the “That 70s Show” actor, but his outburst near the end of the film is extraordinary. He’s passionate, angry, and literally lights up the screen.
Cate Blanchett also delivers an ambitious performance. Mary Mapes has one desire and that’s to bring people the truth about what’s happening in the world via the televised news. She stands behind her work and even continues to back this project when things get ugly. Blanchett’s performance is the one you rely on to provide meaning to everything occurring on-screen. Her emotional status in the film is what you should be feeling at that given moment; whether it’s being stressed over a deadline or crying uncontrollably because what you believe in wholeheartedly has been violated every which way. Blanchett is mesmerizing and the main reason the film works as well as it does.
“Truth” is an honest re-telling of the events leading to the departure of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes from CBS News that is based on Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. However the film eventually questions what really qualifies as news. What happens when the message you’re trying to convey is ignored for something entirely insignificant? What your boundaries are and how far you’re willing to leap over your morals is what really drives is the main conflict in the film.
In the vein of both “Zodiac” and “Nightcrawler,” “Truth” has the desire to disclose a contaminated story, but is rather sluggish thanks to the film showing every step of the process and its melodramatic nature. Two solid performances are buried beneath fatigued legwork. It’s like a long-winded horror story from a wounded and aged veteran. You respect what they’ve done for the cause and the end result is intriguing, but the story beforehand is riddled with nonsense and self-created propaganda you could care less about.