James Vanderbilt‘s feature debut “Truth” assembles the likes of two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, alongside Oscar-winner Robert Redford, in a story about how Mary Mapes and Dan Rather lost their careers following a “60 Minutes” story about George W. Bush’s military records. While professionally and passionately executed with the performances of its cast, Vanderbilt’s film doesn’t quite have a strong enough handle on the material or the story he’s trying to tell. What is left by the credits, is a duo of stellar turns, alongside often forced and unnatural dialogue. If anything, it’ll be the work of those two veterans that will pull you through successfully but most importantly, it does spark a needed interest on the state of modern journalism. Vanderbilt should be applauded for that at minimum.
“Truth” begins with Mary Mapes (Blanchett) producing a “60 Minutes” special, in which host Dan Rather (Redford) presented documents of George W. Bush’s military records, showing that he went AWOL during his time in the military and received special treatment. After the episode airing, bloggers and experts make accusations that the records are indeed fake. As Mapes and her team try anxiously to retrace their steps, inaccuracies and possible corruption is brought to light.
Putting politics aside, I’ve never read Mary Mapes’ “Truth and Duty,” the memoir on which the film is based upon. Going by what the film shows, Mapes’ account of the aftermath following the “60 Minutes” special becomes a dog chasing its tail. Unsure if they were trying to portray an incompetent producer/journalist, or a misguided woman, led astray by false information. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt’s script, at times, portrays a compelling argument in favor of the accuracy but leaves the audience wondering what he or anyone firmly believes. There is some great things happening in the story, that would have made a smarter, more interesting complete film. Vanderbilt explores the relationship of Mapes and her family, which makes for an interesting perspective to see her actions. Rather’s tumultuous relationship with CBS is touched upon, but little else outside of the compounds of the cameras.
Calling back to a film like “Shattered Glass,” Blanchett often feels like Hayden Christiansen, desperately believing the “story” but giving everyone around her doubt. Cate Blanchett‘s work explodes on screen, jolting in and out of coherent thoughts and persuasion, often never letting the viewer feel secure about their how they really feel about her. In one dynamite scene, and we’ll call it her “Oscar scene,” Blanchett controls the screen and her cast members with a bull-like charge, invoking and bringing to life, the best written scene of the film. It’s one of her very best performances ever, and something that will courageously keep her in the Oscar conversation for Best Actress.
Robert Redford‘s stoic and reserved take on Dan Rather is a quiet storm, and likely the unsung hero of the film. He takes on the man’s mannerisms but inserts his own sensibilities about how we perceive him to be. Dennis Quaid shines as an ex-Military personnel working on the story while Topher Grace goes a little bit overboard as a manic and shrill young journalists trying to find the conspiracy theories. Elisabeth Moss is regulated in general inquiries about the players behind the documents but offers little else in her underwritten role. Bruce Greenwood, as the president of CBS, is fantastically present. David Lyons also surprises as Josh Howard, a role that boils right to the top without going over. Same goes for the always diabolical Stacy Keach.
“Truth” excels in many of its technical merits. Brian Tyler‘s score offers depth and suspense to certain scenes while Mandy Walker‘s camera work softly maneuvers through the film. Richard Francis-Bruce‘s editing almost nailed a perfect ending to the film, but for whatever reason, was taken to one extra scene that the viewer truly didn’t need.
“Truth” may not be an all-out homerun for Vanderbilt, but its a fine example of the exceptional work that Blanchett and Redford are capable of doing in any role they’re given. Though not magnificently executed, I can’t help but still ponder on its findings, and the questions that it brings up in its first few moments. He gets the mind thinking, and the juices flowing, before ultimately resting on the merits of two journalists that may or may not have been duped.
“Truth” opens in theaters on October 16 and is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. You can also read Shane Slater’s take on the film from the Toronto Film Festival.