Truth Isn't A Documentary, But Maybe It Should Have Been.
Director: James Vanderbilt.
Writer: James Vanderbilt.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quiad, Topher Grace and Elizabeth Moss.
Opens at: Wide.
Investigative journalism seems to be a dying art form. Nowadays, any yahoo with a computer can research and uncover some video or scandal from someone's past. Yes, computers and the Internet have made the images of research assistants and producers combing through endless boxes of files a thing of the past.
It's just not the world we live in anymore. And it can lead to some troubling ends.
Back when George W. Bush was running for re-election, there were some allegations about his time in the Texas National Guard. Was he a draft dodger? Did he actually perform his duties to the best of his ability? Was he given special favors because of his father? All of these questions spurred Mary Mapes (played here by Cate Blanchett) to begin an investigation into W's time in the Guard. Mapes was a producer for 60 Minutes and a favorite producer of Dan Rather (as portrayed by Robert Redford). Mapes went on to win a Peabody Award for her work exposing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, so she's the type to go after something big.
Truth tells the story of the Dallas-based Mapes and Rather's attempt to bring Bush's National Guard tenure to the forefront of the news and the election. They gather a plethora of evidence about fudged reports, Bush missing assignments and, finally, the infamous Killian documents, which became the center of this controversy. Mapes received documents from Bush's commanding officer stating that Killian wouldn't falsify better marks on Bush's yearly evaluation — pretty compelling evidence, except there were problems with the documents, namely that they weren't originals.
What transpires is an exasperating chain of events for Mapes and Rather. And their angst and frustration is portrayed magnificently in this film by Blanchett and Redford. They're in a hole that keeps getting deeper. Whenever they get a leg up or find evidence to support their side, it seems something else comes and knocks them down again.
Given its subject matter, the film can feel a little exposition-heavy. The supporting characters just feel like they're there to ask questions the audience has — queries like, “What does that mean?” or “Who's that again?” — or to go on long exposition diatribes. It can feel burdensome and tedious. The movie really holds your hand with the plot instead of trusting the audience with piecing together information.
Fortunately, any scenes with Blanchett and Redford help lift this movie up. They bring these people to life and give them some much-needed depth that's lacking from the other characters.
That said, I'm not entirely sure this film needed to be a dramatization of the events that unfolded. This could have easily been a through documentary with real interviews and footage. It would've conveyed the same message and built more tension than presented in this current version.
That's not to say that the film isn't watchable — it is, and it explores some great themes about journalism, trust and research. Plus, the story about what they're researching is absolutely fascinating.
As we learn from Truth, though, even when you're doing your job as thoroughly as possible, there are always cracks you have to be aware of because they can come back and bite you in the ass — and hard. Like Rather, the film does the best it can with the script it was given.
Still, I can't help but think there's a better movie in there if only the filmmakers had done a little better digging.