In the run up to the 2004 Presidential election – contested by George W. Bush and John Kerry – Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and the investigative team at CBS’s 60 Minutes, try to uncover the truth about George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, whether he was recommended by someone, and whether he actually completed his service. The fallout from the resulting TV broadcast, based on documents provided to the team, cost producer Mary Mapes and anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) their careers.
With Spotlight barely out of our minds after its incredible reception and subsequent Oscar win, Truth is another film focusing on a team trying to uncover the truth behind rumours. The trouble is that the film makes heroes and villains out of the wrong people, leaving it feeling unsatisfying and uneven.
Cate Blanchett leads the show here as producer Mary Mapes. As always, Blanchett is engaging and strong in the role, and makes Mapes feel like a tenacious, caring and fully rounded character. The film also shows off the character’s charm, which made her team fall in line behind her. Robert Redford takes on the role of Dan Rather and, although he is in the background for much of the film, makes the character a kind one with a desire for truth and honesty. The rest of Mary Mapes’ team – who have significantly less to do, other than make phone calls and shouty statements – is made up of Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss. Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach and Dermot Mulroney also star in the film.
The story is based on a true one, with James Vanderbilt adapting the tale for the screen, from Mary Mapes’ book. There is a great tale to be told here about the ethics of journalism, and the importance of research and making sure more than one source can back up your findings, but Truth instead decides to focus on the people behind the story. This makes the film more about seeing who was right and who was wronged, rather than a cautionary tale about the potential failings of investigative journalism, when people are too involved with the story to consider whether it is actually true. The dialogue is strong however, and the relationships between the characters feels real, be it friend, manager or foe.
As director, James Vanderbilt coaxes strong performances from his cast, but many of them fall by the wayside in order to focus on Blanchett and her character’s choices. The film is well paced for the most part, with the audience gripped by the ins and outs of a story that could change the political landscape of the US and, by extension, the world. The trouble is that in the third act, when the film becomes about right and wrong, truth and forgeries, it gets too caught up in trying to make the journalists out as wronged that the actual truth of the story falls by the wayside.
In all, Truth is a film that perhaps focuses on the wrong side of a complicated story, and instead could have taken a leaf from Spotlight’s book, and told the story of the story. As it stands however, Blanchett and Redford are strong – the rest of the cast have significantly less to do – but the focus of the film leaves it feeling unsatisfying, and as though martyrs are being made of the wrong people.