The film “Truth” revisits a time in America’s history when politics ensnared media in its corruption and lies. “Truth” has its saving graces — an all-star cast of Hollywood pros and an ultimately fascinating story. Unfortunately, it sags under the pressure of its disputed storyline.
“Truth” is about the controversial 2004 news story that “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett, “Carol”) broke about George Bush’s service in the National Guard. With the story, Mapes asserts that Bush was able to avoid service in Vietnam through favoritism. She has help from her research team, played by Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), Dennis Quaid (“Footloose”) and Topher Grace (“American Ultra”). Considering the potential for greatness in these supporting actors, particularly Moss as a journalism professor, they are underused in roles that could have added to the character relationships had they been deeper. The face of the scandal is veteran news anchor Dan Rathers, skillfully portrayed by Robert Redford (“A Walk in the Woods”). Skepticism is raised when Bush’s commanding officer doubts his service, so the entire blogosphere, still in its youth in 2004, begins a witch-hunt. Mapes stands as the main target of the bloggers’ wrath, but everyone involved is implicated.
Firstly, as a director and screenwriter, James Vanderbilt uses a strange angle to explain Mapes’s fierce journalism. While she sleeps on a plane back to New York, her team discusses her past. They justify her tenacity with her abusive father, who would beat her and her siblings for asking questions. Unfortunately, the shocked response over her journalism career feels manufactured and awkward. When Mapes discusses the abuse with her husband, she equates the media’s persecution of herself to her father’s abuse. It’s an odd association, and she is already portrayed as the victim in this story, so it feels like too much to put another degree of victimhood onto her character.
Despite this, Blanchett and Redford do an admirable job of creating compelling characters. “Truth” accomplishes what it does because of their acting finesse, as Blanchett’s every movement and facial expression is perfect for her role. Redford, at 79 years old, is still a force to be reckoned with onscreen, as he sincerely portrays Rathers’s nuanced character.
Ironically, the screenplay — based on Mapes’s memoir detailing the events leading up to her end in TV journalism in 2004 — has been charged with not telling the whole truth. The network for “60 Minutes,” CBS, refuses to run ads for the show, and “Truth” has received criticism for its conspiracy theories about the media’s influence on the Bush administration’s public policy. “Truth” seems to want to answer the questions America still has, but when we walk out of the theater, we’re still left in the dark.