Director: James Vanderbilt
Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett and Dennis Quaid
Running Time: 125 minutes
Release Date: March 4th
If ever there was a worse time to come out with a film that looks at investigative journalism in post-9/11 America, then it has to be right now. Picture this: You are set to make your directorial debut, an important comment on privilege and power, after having produced not one, but three scripts that were utter trash. Credibility looms. But, what happens, as glory seems mere metres away? You end up the Salieri to the Mozart of docudramas.
This is precisely what has happened to James Vanderbilt, whose decision to step behind the camera for Truth, after having penned White House Down, The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, has ended up with his film falling short, as Tom McCarthy’s magnificent newsroom drama Spotlight picked up the Best Picture at the Academy Awards. He has not produced a bad film, no. He has simply came forward with his retelling of a controversy surrounding CBS’s 60 Minutes at a moment when Spotlight was being praised as the modern All The President’s Men, by the likes of The Washington Post and Carl Bernstein himself.
Starring Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, Robert Redford and Topher Grace, Truth revisits the disastrous events that surrounded 60 Minutes’ airing of a story, which revealed strong evidence to suggest George W. Bush ducked military service during Vietnam. Spearheading this investigation was Mary Mapes, an award winning producer and investigative journalist, whose memoir Truth and Duty provides the source material for the film.
However, as one of the main documents in her case was written-off in the blogosphere as a forgery, produced on Microsoft Word, and manipulated to resemble a military file, the reaction leads to catastrophe. Overnight, Mapes and veteran news anchor Dan Rathers witness their careers falling to pieces, until eventually they are ousted from the program in so painfully degrading a manner.
A balanced critique on the immoveable prejudices embedded within contrasting ideologies, Truth certainly deserves credit for how it dismisses the concept of an impartial media. Mapes, although a character worthy of sympathy, is by no means innocent, even if her treatment in the national witch-hunt veers on borderline cruelty.
Her fatal flaw was in starting out with a conclusion, and then accumulating enough evidence to prove her view correct. We must seriously ask ourselves, even when dealing with a war criminal, should we still uphold one the basic principles of a fair society? Do we start by stating, ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, or do we opt for its opposite? Or is innocence even a possibility when dealing with those whose wealth offers them the chance to coast over struggle from the day that they were born?
An interesting moral dilemma, Truth also provokes thought in its use of the ‘Cleopatra’s Nose’ hypothesis to question how modern history has panned out. Invoking E.H. Carr here, who once suggested that the fate of Leon Trotsky might have been less grim, were it not for a cold, which he caught while duck hunting, Vanderbilt uses this idea to explain how easy it is for the media to sway undecided voters when it comes to presidential elections.
Capable of delivering a painful spate of injustices, interwoven with a twisted sense of humour, this style does make the film entertaining. From the above mentioned peculiar twists of fate, to the wild-goose-chase that is gathering together sources willing to go on record, it can be hard not to laugh as desperation and anxiety merge to create a few capers. In saying this, however, the light-heartedness does overstay its welcome, when we are confronted by Guy Ritchie style montages, which do undermine the serious aspects of the overall package.
Such creative choices undermine the immediate impact of Truth, given its current competition on the American film circuit. It is not Spotlight, but then again, very few films can reach that level of refined excellence and vitality. Save the comparisons, and take this in for what it is, a well-done study on nepotism, injustice, identity politics, and the immense power of reporting, whether it is executed well, or not.