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Movie Review of the Week – “Truth”

Movie Review of the Week – “Truth”
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Can a film, especially one adapted from a personal memoir, ever portray the truth?  If truth shifts depending on the perspective, then what do we believe, especially if the “truth” appears to be clearly weighted towards one side of a very knotty issue?

The issue in question is extremely layered; in 2004 the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a report claiming that George W. Bush (who was running for re-election) had used family connections to avoid the Vietnam draft in 1968 and had then failed to fully carry out his National Guard duties. Esteemed anchor Dan Rather reported the story that hinged on documents that came into the hands of producer Mary Mapes via Lt. Col. Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach). The authenticity of those documents was immediately discredited by bloggers, other news outlets fell on CBS like a wounded animal and the result was the firing of Mapes and the eventual resignation of Rather.

“Truth”, written and directed by James Vanderbilt (screenwriter “Zodiac”), adapted from Mapes’ own book, could have been a very good movie. And with Cate Blanchett playing Mapes and Robert Redford doing a fine Rather impression it comes close at times. But a heavy-handed script and a cloying need to speechify gets in the way. It’s as if Vanderbilt doesn’t trust his audience to keep up, feeling the need to pause every few minutes to summarize what has just happened. Early on Mapes explains to her lawyer “I’m the producer. I write and cut the piece”.  Phew, thank goodness she cleared that up. Elizabeth Moss, who plays reporter Lucy Scott, seems to be on hand merely to make clarifying remarks in case viewers have dozed off for a few seconds.  A side story about Mapes’ abusive father seems shoehorned (repeatedly) into the script, as if we need a reason to believe that a woman could be driven to question and probe authority without a Defining Traumatic Event in her past.

If the execution is clumsy and plodding, the issues at the heart of this story are not and “Truth” gets by because of its subject matter, time and place.  With the election looming, CBS rushes to get the piece to air causing key factors to slip through the cracks. Mapes, in her eagerness takes some liberties that with hindsight seem egregious. But the witch hunt that follows is shocking as it comes enmeshed with political, sexual and corporate partisanship. The film vilifies CBS (owned by Viacom) for being in the Bush administration’s pocket. One’s appreciation for “Truth” might just go hand in hand with one’s political leanings.

Mapes and Rather still defend their report for its underlying substance, even if certain papers could not be authenticated. A grandiose speech about obfuscation of the truth comes near the end of the film…well written and brilliantly delivered by Blanchett…but still smacking of pontification rather than good cinema.

Much is made of the fact that other news outlets report on CBS’s blunders, rather than the truth lurking beneath the accusations of false papers, impossible type setting and fonts. When the film ends, we see that Mapes went on to win a Peabody award for her earlier Abu Ghraib reporting, further cementing her legend as a great journalist. I’d be more inclined to applaud, if I didn’t feel like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer for two hours.








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