Right before the 2004 Presidential Election, 60 Minutes ran a piece that supposedly detailed President Bush’s National Guard service, or lack thereof, and it would have served as a damning mark on his record. The conservative blogosphere immediately began pushing against the validity of the documents in question, and the conversation quickly turned back on CBS and the “lies” they were spreading instead of the President’s record. Truth follows the crafting of the story, through the eventual fall out at CBS, but mostly misses the opportunity to really dig into the corruption and 24 hour media complex that led to this story’s downfall.
Truth has a fine cast, Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford lead as the story producer and Rather, respectively (Blanchett has played a man), but right from the get go this real life tale feels so paint by numbers. The music cues for the montages made me laugh they were so on the nose, then made me sad because they were trying so hard to elicit some sort of emotion because the film’s text wasn’t. The filmmaking felt sub par across the board from first time helmer James Vanderbilt, and while I have enjoyed some of his writing (Zodiac is incredible, but I think Fincher deserves most of that film’s credit after seeing this) I am not interested in seeing him direct anything ever again. I don’t know what happened with this script, as the film handles exposition horribly; which is bad news for a film made up almost primarily of exposition.
Poor Elisabeth Moss, she gets the horrible job of repeating things back and saying the most obvious things for the sake of the lowest common denominator audience. Dennis Quaid serves pretty much the same purpose, but he delivers the material like a clown dressed up as an ex-military man. It really might be the worst performance I have ever seen from him, it’s hilariously bad. Topher Grace is the only one in the secondary cast who actually has any personality, and while that personality might just feel like Topher Grace he at least gets to do something. His monologue connecting Bush to Viacom is one of the film’s highlights.
I’m beating up on the characters and actors in the secondary cast, but Blanchett and Redford are both quite good. Blanchett, playing producer Mary Mapes, borders on being a parody of herself in a couple of big emotional scenes, but she has more good scenes than wonky ones. One in particular, in a courtroom-esque moment, is both Blanchett and the film at their best, which digs into the absurdity of where the news took this story and how we are all screwed because of it. Redford nails the most trusted man in news vibe more than he does Rather, but it ultimately works well for the part and suits him nicely. I wish we got a bit more of him actually, the wily behind the scenes side of Rather, but the film ultimately devolves into a sentimental, “look how amazing Rather was!” sap fest by the end.
The film was adapted from Mapes book about this whole mess, and the film never feels divorced from that perspective, actively contradicting the message the people in the story are trying to sell. The players at CBS are endlessly talking about how the story is nonpartisan, but the film doesn’t seem to fit that mold. Yes, the facts aren’t in Bush’s favor, and I wish this stuff would have come out in 2000 when Mapes first almost broke the story, but the film is freely taking shots at the ex-President. Though those shots are rightfully deserved, it undermines the story the film is trying to tell. It’s hard to buy these journalists as just doing their job if the filmmaking is coming from a partisan position itself. I wish the film’s liberal slant would have dug more into the BS tactics of Bush and the conservative media more. That is where the film could rightfully show its bias and it would gel with what is going on-screen, Unfortunately, the film never fully goes after their throats. The liberal bias of the film hurts the film the most though in a ridiculous moment when Mapes reacts in horror at the sight of a Fox News van, ripping her curtains shut as she screams! I laughed aloud at this nonsense and I am a pretty far leaning left individual.
Truth is an OK movie. Its two stars are good, but both have been far better. Vanderbilt gets a couple of good political shots in, but his adaptation of Mapes’ book feels more like a vindication train for her and Rather rather than an exercise in good storytelling. Truth will get Oscar buzz I’m sure, but I don’t know if you need to rush out and see this. It’s nice that someone is trying to open the country’s eyes to the political and media mess we live in, I just wish it could have been done better than it is in Truth.