Director: James Vanderbilt
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Based on: Mary Mapes‘ book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, David Lyons, Dermot Mulroney, Rachael Blake, Andrew McFarlane
Seen on: 9.6.2016
Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) is a producer on CBS’ 60 Minutes, hosted by Dan Rather (Robert Redford). They get wind of a story that George Bush Jr may have received favorable treatment in the army which kept him out of harm’s way and could considerably hurt his run for the presidency. They investigate and despite a few incongruencies decide to go ahead and report on the story. It doesn’t take long, though, for serious doubts to arise as to the veracity of the story and the supporting documents. Quickly, Mary finds herself under heavy fire.
Truth is a decent film carried by Blanchett, but it fundamentally misunderstands the quest it is on, which does throw a wrench in its own works.
Truth thinks its a movie about freedom of expression and how Mapes and her team are unjustly persecuted for daring to question the (potential) president of the USA. In a wonderfully delivered speech, Mapes shouts that she will not be harassed for “daring to ask questions.” But the thing is, she didn’t “ask questions”, she reported on a story that turned out to be very doubtful, if not entirely false. And people held her responsible for it. To make this into a story about free speech and free press is the equivalent of an internet troll seeing their rights infringed when people call them an asshole. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom of criticism or freedom of accountability for what you’re saying.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story here and every once in a while the movie touches on things that should have been more central to the story. Mapes certainly didn’t deserve to be harassed, even if she had lied outright. We get a short glimpse of a core problem in (investigative) journalism today: the constant looming of deadlines and finding the right airtime for a certain story to maximize viewership, which put Mapes and her team under pressure to report on a story they didn’t actually finish investigating. But we don’t spend any more time with that than necessary to free them of suspicion of having reported out of malice.
The movie also flirts with the conspiracy theory explanation for this story: that somebody out of the Bush campaign gave them the documents so they would report on it, only that they would then be able to discredit them. Which I’m not saying couldn’t have happened, but it does sound unlikely and ever so slightly unhinged. If this wasn’t supposed to be a film based on a real story, I might have gone along with it, but as is, I couldn’t really.
Despite all my criticism of the film, it was entertaining and passed quickly. The cast is strong and the story moves along at a quick pace. Of course, just watching Blanchett go from one emotional moment to the next is quite brilliant, so I don’t know what they would have had to do to completely destroy the film. In any case they didn’t. They just didn’t quite carry the message they wanted to send, taking away from their own impact.