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Truth – Movie Review

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Truth – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

The best biographical films don’t portray their subjects as black or white and Truth takes that to heart. While it could have portrayed the central figures as heroes who helped reveal some startling facts to the American public, director/writer James Vanderbilt shows these are flawed individuals who made mistakes all in the rush for a headline grabbing story. Taking clear inspiration from newsroom movies, Vanderbilt comes close to turning it into a lecture, but manages to stop himself. By presenting the 60 Minutes team as flawed in their research, it makes the final film far more interesting than if they were shown to be just wrongfully accused do-gooders.

At the center of it all is Mary Mapes, played excellently by Cate Blanchett. In some scenes, she is shown to be intelligent and certainly one of the finest producers in the news world. At other points, she is nervous and fumbling and too focused on deadlines to make real judgments. With the ticking clock of the air date looming, we sense that something is going to fall by the wayside when they check their sources and research. It shows the importance that when dealing with a story that could change the face of a major event like an election, everything needs to be carefully checked and cannot be rushed. When things start to unravel and go very wrong for the team, it doesn’t take long to figure out what they did wrong.

Most importantly, Truth doesn’t tell the audience whether what was presented in the documents were real and that the whole witch hunt against Mapes and her team was unnecessary. The attack certainly goes too far at points, thus creating sympathy for Mapes (especially when Internet insults are thrown her way), but Vanderbilt makes it clear that all of the facts should have been looked over. The most exciting scenes of Truth are surprisingly in the first half when they’re putting the news report together. The backstage portrayal of 60 Minutes is legitimately thrilling to watch and Vanderbilt is able to make reporters pointing at photocopies and whiteboards as entertaining as any potential action scene. The pacing slows down a bit when the allegations start happening, but the script stays smart and even-handed.

The danger with casting a highly recognisable actor like Robert Redford as another known figure like Dan Rather is that we see the celebrity over the person he’s supposed to be playing. Redford plays the part well, but one never forgets that this is Redford playing the role of the former CBS news anchor. The portrayal of Rather is also where Truth starts aiming for sentimentality, but it never quite hits the note Vanderbilt is aiming for. Playing lesser known people, the rest of the ensemble have an easier time portraying their characters, though Blanchett towers over all of them. It does, at least, show that Topher Grace can be a decent dramatic actor, when given the proper material.

Truth works, both because the subject is interesting and because it doesn’t treat it with too heavy a bias. While we are somewhat supposed to root for Mapes to win out in the end, the film clearly shows she made some major mistakes when putting the story together. Had there not been as short a deadline and had the research been more thorough, the news report would have come across as a lot more authentic and probably done some damage to the 2004 election. It actually is very appropriate that Robert Redford be cast in this film. While the quintessential newsroom drama All the President’s Men showed the importance of following whatever lead and source you receive, Truth shows what happens when you just let the hunt for a great story blind you to the potential flaws of that juicy headline.

Stefan Ellison

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