Sometimes, when a film covers something in the news that you remember vividly, certain casting can become a little bit distracting. This definitely rings true (pun intended) in the new film Truth, which follows the scandal that led to a large part of CBS’s 60 Minutes crew being fired and the end of esteemed newscaster Dan Rather’s career. The distracting part is that Rather is played by Robert Redford, who stepped into the shoes of writer Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods a little more seamlessly earlier this year. In this film I couldn’t help but think about his film from 1996, Up Close and Personal, where he again played a news anchor.
To offset the Rather casting, Cate Blanchett does a very good job in the lead as his dutiful and driven producer Mary Mapes, a woman who sought out the real story behind an old lie in the president’s past and got disgraced and buried for it. The reality of this story left me pretty angry when the credits rolled at the end. Just more injustice in this world and one that, now exposed, didn’t tarnish anyone but the people who brought it to our attention.
The film centers around Mapes as she pitches a story to open the newest season of the acclaimed news series 60 Minutes to the producer Josh Howard. Her story comes from a slightly buried quote in which former Texas Lieutenant governor Ben Barnes claimed to have gotten President George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard as a pilot. This is also months before the 2004 elections between Bush and Kerry.
Mapes recruits a team of journalists around her including a former military man (Dennis Quaid), a college professor (Elizabeth Moss) and a brash guerilla style reporter (Topher Grace). Together the team delves deep into the scandal and through sources that request to be kept secret, they make a massive revelation. The most powerful man in America successfully dodged his involvement in Vietnam and didn’t even serve his time in the Air National Guard. With collusion from the military, Bush fudged his way through.
Dan Rather breaks the story on air and the team celebrates until sources start withdrawing and Mapes’ evidence and methods are called into question as serious doubt is cast onto the truth of the entire story. Under a microscope now, this team must work against the clock to defend their story as the competing media tightens the noose around their necks.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit, really getting behind the conspiracy of the situation depicted in this movie. Does it help hat I’m very anti-Bush? Yes, my politics may sway my feelings for this film, as a Republican would most likely despise this film outright. This film may come across as very left leaning but I think it’s more of a fact presenter from the point of view of these journalists.
Zodiac writer James Vanderbilt makes his directorial debut for this one, also adapting Mapes’ tell all book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power for the film and does a decent job bringing it to the screen. This film is nothing amazing but the political plot is a story worth knowing, especially for those who never heard about it.
The effectiveness of telling what happened to Dan Rather would have probably come off better if they had done a far better job in having Redford look more like the long time news man. As an audience, we all know (or should know) what Dan Rather looks like and, although they’re roughly in the same age range, it totally resembles laziness or ineptitude in having the legendary actor just do his thing instead of playing a faithful facsimile of a pretty iconic media presence.
As far as newsroom based film goes, Truth fails to hit the height that Sidney Lumet’s Network set the bar at back in 1976, but really, that’s a very high achievement. What it does manage to do is give a cautionary tale to other journalists about source confirmation and the pitfalls of rushing a story to air without all your pieces in check. Still, a well plotted out film, I give Truth a three and a half out of five.