Truth March 9, 2016
“I never see a film as being an absolute version of the truth,” Cate Blanchett quipped during the most recent The Hollywood Reporter Actress Roundtable. “A film is not a documentary.”
At the event to promote the acclaim received for her performances in Carol and Truth, it’s an ironic statement from an actress starring in a movie depicting real-life events that were, famously, fraught with deceit. Truth portrays the downfall of journalists Dan Rather and Mary Mapes following their involvement in the 2004 Killian documents controversy — and, despite Blanchett’s position that much fictionalization is in place to ensure palatable entertainment, it is, nevertheless, a tantalizing, sharply crafted journalism movie, underrated in contrast to,and overshadowed by the similarly engrossing Spotlight.
A chubby kid in the first grade around the time the film’s events took place, Truth is an eye-opener of colossal power for the outsider like me; for the viewer familiar with the long-winded tussle, its behind-the-scenes drama is enough to keep you astounded.
Blanchett stars as Mapes, a star producer for 60 Minutes II whose knack for spotting scoop-ridden stories have made her the most trusted sidekick of the veteran Rather (Redford). Their work is stressful but rewarding, and their rapport is something most colleagues dream of, back-watching hardly questioned. Success is a sensation that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. So when Mapes sniffs out a possible story that suggests President/Presidential Candidate George W. Bush received special treatment from military authorities in the mid-1970s, she lunges at the chance to dig dirt on the man.
What happens from there is compulsively watchable, as we know that the documents used to back the story are forged, that the sources are untrustworthy, and that Rather and Mapes will not come out of the mess unscathed. A couple hours on Wikipedia could just as easily fill you in on the incidents Truth so faithfully brings to life, but its non-fictional tellings are not necessarily its most fascinating feature.
Like in the majority of journalism movies, most captivating are the people involved. We only know Rather as a face and personality, not necessarily as a man, and Mapes, in the past, has been more a figure than she has been a multifaceted woman. But by so comprehensively studying its individuals as they live through the film’s excruciating chain of events, we’re not so much provoked by what happens to them as we are provoked by watching them react to the downfalls coming at them at full-speed. Blanchett gives one of her greatest performances as Mapes, her portrait of the rise and fall of an ambitious woman unsettlingly visceral, and Redford is an understated wonder as the unrivaled Rather.
But there are some reservations I have about Truth on a higher level, and most of them have to do with James Vanderbilt, a longtime Hollywood screenwriter making his writing/directing debut with the film. As Truth is the kind of movie in which we expect things to be told exactly how they happened, or at least, how they might have happened, there’s an understanding that bias should not be a factor in the content, the truth (cough cough) speaking for itself and allowing the film to be entertaining on sturdy ground. But while Vanderbilt might be the first to admit that the years of turmoil following the focal controversy were a result of hasty reporting on the part of Mapes and her team (we recoil early on as she insists that she can ready the story in a short five days), he also stirs in an ideology that the firing of Mapes and the stepping down of Rather were also due to CBS’s supporting of Bush.
In a movie with a story far less based upon the mistakes of its leading characters, this might be a plausible side-step. But here, it feels more like a furthering of Vanderbilt’s personal political beliefs, his own opinions regarding the matter at hand clouding the veracity of the film as a whole. Mapes, though brilliant, did fuck up, but Vanderbilt is so determined to promote his convictions that her role in the affair was only minor in comparison to the doings of the 1 percent that we’re left a little doubtful of the way Truth presents itself. But Blanchett and Redford are excellent, and the film contains the sort of inexhaustible fury that makes it blazingly thrilling. If only Vanderbilt could see its story through clear eyes and not through his partial own — then we'd really have a scoop. B