In 1976, Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, a seminal drama on the impact of political news reporting, hit cinema screens. The multi-Oscar winning endeavor shares a somewhat similar narrative to that of James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut, Truth, entering in to the same territory and uncovering another compelling real life story. Robert Redford stars in both pictures, though that is sadly where any such comparisons end, for when judging the film’s on their respective quality, Truth is nowhere near as accomplished as what had come before.
Set in 2004, behind the scenes of the CBS 60 Minutes report, we meet producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) who, alongside the venerable, trustworthy anchor Dan Rather (Redford), investigate the then-President George W. Bush’s involvement in the military service (or lack of). They firmly believe that he had pulled a few strings to receive preferential treatment, and avoid being drafted to Vietnam. Causing a huge stir, suddenly Mapes and Rather become victims of a firestorm and witch-hunt, given the fact they are unable to 100% the authenticity of the documents.
If there’s one thing you simply cannot fault in Truth, it’s the performances from the leading cast, particularly Blanchett who brings such subtly and empathy to the role at hand, while Redford perfectly captures the respectability of the role at hand. This is certainly a case of making the most out of a bad situation, however, given the mediocre screenplay – which comes as something of a surprise given it’s where Vanderbilt excels, having penned the likes of Zodiac and White House Down. It’s certainly got a flow to the dialogue, however, coming at a real fast pace that throws the audience into the chaos of this contentious newsroom – but all it’s doing is distracting the viewer from the shortcomings. Some of the film’s most absorbing sequences come away from that environment, however, particularly when Mapes is at home reading comments about herself on the internet – struggling to cope with being thrust into the public eye and how it affects her marriage.
Though we’re undoubtedly on her side – and we, just like Mapes, want the truth to prevail, Vanderbilt has not presented a particularly balanced piece. In a sense that she’s heroised somewhat, and while you cannot argue with her well-meaning convictions, allegiances, and honest hunt for the truth, ultimately, and though you believe in her cause – she hadn’t quite adhered to the principles and ethics of journalism, and if unable to validate the documents, you can see the other side’s perspective, but it’s not one we explore. Nonetheless, this film studies the vocation that is journalism in a way that captivating in parts – but needless to say, and in that regard, it’s no Spotlight.