UK Release Date: 4th March 2016
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: James Vanderbilt
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood, Elisabeth Moss, John Benjamin Hickey
Synopsis: A team of investigative journalists uncovers a major story about George Bush ahead of the 2004 election, but they soon find themselves on the other side of the debate when their journalistic work is called into question.
Journalism on the big screen has made an enormous impact this year, with Tom McCarthy’s outstanding drama Spotlight scooping Best Picture at the Oscars. Given the publicity surrounding McCarthy’s incendiary hit, few people have been talking about Truth – another drama set in the world of American investigative journalism at the start of the 21st century. It’s a shame to see this happen because Truth, like Spotlight, is a very interesting movie.
Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), producer for CBS programme 60 Minutes, uncovers damning information about George W Bush’s military career in the run-up to the 2004 election. The report airs, with anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) citing documents provided by former National Guard officer Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach). In the aftermath of the programme, questions are raised as to the authenticity of the documents and the quality of the journalism that produced the report.
The subject matter at the heart of Truth is certainly not at the level of importance shown in Spotlight, but that does not dilute its power. Truth showcases the sheer degree of detail required in the meticulous world of investigative journalism and the potentially explosive consequences of questioning the most powerful people in the world. It’s a film about the sheer frustration of seeing the true story get lost in a maelstrom of vitriol.
I never got to ask you. Why did you get into journalism?
Cate Blanchett’s performance provides the perfect centre for this story. Mapes is a character who knows she is right and is desperate to uncover the truth, but finds herself a victim of an eagerness to publish and the spectre of a looming deadline. Blanchett is equally strong as Mapes at her most confident, certain of her own integrity, as she is when the shit hits the fan and Mapes finds every aspect of her professionalism under the microscope. Her descent into sad resignation is only matched by the gusto with which she delivers a fist-pumping final speech that could easily have devolved into cliché in lesser hands.
Unfortunately, the same control isn’t quite exercised by the rest of Truth, which occasionally takes the unpleasant step into melodrama. A running motif involves Robert Redford’s grizzled newsroom vet interacting with Topher Grace as idealistic young reporter Mike Smith. Their exchanges are stilted and rather awkward, as is Grace’s rather on-the-nose tirade about the issues with media institutions being in the pockets of those who wield power. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more subtly in that scene, given that its message expresses one of the most important arguments made by the movie – the obstacles in the way of the truth.
Truth is at its best, like Spotlight, when it’s dramatising the tense process of putting together the pieces of an explosive and important story. Vanderbilt does a stellar job of finding the most intense way to stage an hour of mundane phone calls or the process of getting a document checked for legitimacy. He’s on less sure-footed ground when he’s directing the newsroom scenes, which lack some of the authenticity that made Spotlight so compelling.
You’re a shitty liar, you know that?
It’s certainly true that Truth is a far from perfect film, but it is a sad tale of what happens when the dogged determination of journalism isn’t enough to match the muscular influence of political power. In a world in which the role of the journalist is being questioned and changed, it’s important for cinema to illustrate just how important the profession can be.
Pop or Poop?
James Vanderbilt’s take on journalism at its most complex is an impressive, but imperfect, drama bolstered by a tremendous central performance from Cate Blanchett. Blanchett thrives, despite the variable nature of the material, and even brings some gravitas to moments that could easily have veered into saccharine cliché.
It’s certainly a partisan film, but one that is keen to point out the hypocrisy of power and the importance of holding those who wield it to account.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.