‘The truth is out there” is the tagline from sci-fi thriller TV series “The X-Files,” suggesting that perhaps all we had to do was find it and retrieve it like a lost frisbee.
“Truth,” however, reveals that it’s never that simple. Based on the real-life events that destroyed the careers of CBS producer Mary Mapes and the network’s iconic “60 Minutes” anchorman Dan Rather, “Truth” aims to blend newsroom glamor with dry objectivism in one bottle. And when director James Vanderbilt gives it a good shake, the story bites with acerbic zing.
In 2004, Rather went on the Wednesday “60 Minutes” and broke the story that the then U.S. President George W. Bush had avoided being sent to Vietnam during his stint with the Texas Air National Guard during the 1970s. The network’s research team had the incriminating documents to back its accusation, and at the moment the show aired, there were no doubters. CBS was in a celebratory mood that night, and many of its viewers thought this would change the course of the upcoming presidential elections, if not actually seal Bush’s political fate.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||125 mins|
But the next morning, Mary Mapes was accused of fabricating the evidence (known as the Killian documents after the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian who purportedly wrote them), which, it appeared, were not typed on a 1970s typewriter but written using Microcsoft Word on a computer.
Robert Redford stars as Rather and provides a solid and anchoring presence, but this is really the story of Mapes, told through the incredible performance of Cate Blanchett, who slips into the role like she would into a favorite pair of high heels. Her Mapes is every inch the brittle, ambitious media executive you would expect, beneath which lies inescapable memories of an abusive father and an overwhelming need to prove herself. In the movie, Mapes sees a paternal figure in Rather, which he seems happy to be for her.
Rather is portrayed as a virtual deity — the entire newsroom adores him, most notably Mike Smith (Topher Grace), who tracks down the Killian documents, and Lucy Scott (Elizabeth Moss), Mapes’ right-hand woman. Mapes is seen running a tight ship and her team’s loyalty is unquestionable — or so she thinks. When her credibility and the entire show come under fire, however, it starts to unravel at the seams.
The sequences leading up to Rather breaking the story are superb and the urgency of the news reporting is palpable. Vanderbilt gets heavy handed, though, when the story lingers over the seminal moments that Mapes, under deadline pressure and a little too sure of herself, decides to go public with the documents, despite knowing that they came from a single source, who not only happened to be working for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, but was also asking for hefty financial compensation. Furthermore, she doesn’t have any substantial backup information.
The dangers of such journalism and the pitfalls of newsroom ambition rear their heads, as the desire to break a powerful story supersedes usual journalistic practice. Interestingly, “Truth” came out in the U.S. at about the same time as the news drama “Spotlight” did last year. The latter had a lot less wattage in terms of glamor, but it bagged an Oscar and was instructive in the often slow, always grueling, nose-to-the-grindstone process of investigative journalism. “Truth” didn’t even get a mention and was relegated to the back pages.
Ultimately, “Truth” feels like a wake for the death of the Wednesday “60 Minutes” and, personally, I needed a hanky to get through it. Mapes lost her job, Rather announced his retirement and the Wednesday “60 Minutes” segment was cancelled in 2005. Bush went on to his second term as president, and his conduct during service was never really verified. If the truth really was out there, it must have been stashed in a vault and buried at sea.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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