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Categories: Movie Reviews

James Vanderbilt’s film features good performances from Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, but they’re not enough to save the film.

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You have to give writer/director/producer James Vanderbilt top marks for bringing together a terrific A-list cast for his new film Truth. It includes Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and an almost unrecognisable Stacey Keach.    

Trying to expose George W Bush

In the run-up to the 2004 American election, the seminal CBS news programme 60 Minutes is trying to find an angle to discredit George W Bush in order to try and prevent his re-election as president.  Experienced producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) has an extraordinary nose for a story and has just revealed the appalling torture by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison. 

She hears a whisper about George W’s somewhat dubious time in the Texas Air National Guard, which he had given as the reason to how he had avoided the Vietnam draft in the late 1960s/early 1970s.  Digging deeper into this, she discovers that rich Americans used their influence to get ‘preferential’ selection that kept themselves or their sons out of the war.  However George W didn’t seem to have been actually flying too often; his record shows gaps when he simply wasn’t there and his superiors feel unable to give service reports as a result.

Mapes recruits a team (Moss, Grace, Quaid) to ferret out more details, extract confirmations from army officers, and track down whistle-blowers on what became known as “Rathergate” or the Killian Documents controversy. When they think they have enough for an exposé, Mapes calls in her friend, mentor and world famous reporter Dan Rather (Redford), and he present the story on 60 Minutes. And that’s where the story starts to unravel for Mapes. 

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A good script can’t disguise a thin story

The story is based on Mapes’ book The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power which obviously only gives one side of the story. James Vanderbilt has written a strong and often laugh-out-loud script. It’s tight, but there’s little difference in the voices you hear – and you hear a lot of voices. There is scene after scene of talking heads, talking on TV screens, phone calls, conversations in hotel rooms, talking in edit suits, interviews, talking, shouting, and presenting to camera.

Mapes talks like a man, and maybe she does, but it doesn’t make you empathise with the mess she gets herself into (except with her bullying father issues, but even that felt weirdly unresolved).  Although portrayed as a powerful woman, there is never any balance with her masculine work ethic to round her character – no feminine chitchat with Moss, or any other woman, and her parenting skills are only glimpsed. Randomly having her knitting in the opening scenes didn’t make her feminine, either.

However, as a feature film that exposes the workings of broadcast news TV, this film feels more like a TV drama. This has none of the seismic revelations of All the President’s Men or The Insider, and whilst there may have been some repercussions of GWB’s sneaking off to the Texas Air Guard, it seems fairly trivial by comparison.  Vanderbilt has written a thriller about a thin moment in time, but it’s not that thrilling. Tiny victories felt puffed up into massive breakthroughs.

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It’s not that cinematic.

Vanderbilt’s direction is also very TV drama in style, with few memorable visual storytelling moments. It’s notable for various birds’ eye view shots, which get repetitive, and are perhaps a metaphor about perspective? Brian Tyler provides a very good sound track.

What it does achieve is a revelation that folks in high places had the power to control the media, but this was approached somewhat obliquely as if they didn’t quite dare. Mapes’ fixation on the pursuit of the titular truth instead creates a massive crisis for CBS who were forced to act decisively to save their own reputations. Instead of showing Mapes et al as outstanding broadcast news journalists, it achieves exactly the opposite.

Some fine acting

With such a great cast, the acting was bound to be good. Blanchett does her best as a woman who internalises her emotions, Moss is massively underused, Quaid and Grace bicker wittily, and Redford does Redford in a frail way. He looks uncomfortable with the autocue when Rather would have been a practised professional. But Redford still has his relaxed Hollywood smile, even if the eyes are a little less blue, and he can turn on the old charm. Is it enough to save the film? Not really.

Truth isn’t a great film. It just isn’t as interesting and important as it likes to think it is.

Truth is out now in select UK cinemas. 

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A D Cooper is a director, producer, writer and multi-media copywriter. She’s won awards for advertising writing, for screenplays long and short, written 80+ scripts for Ninja Warrior (Challenge TV) and published articles, short stories and joke books. Weary of waiting for someone to film her scripts, she started directing in 2010 creating a slate of short films including two corporates, a documentary and a museum installation. All of her fiction shorts for Hurcheon Films have been selected for international festivals, with Ace (2013) garnering five awards. Her most recent projects are an award-winning historical docushort Writing the Peace, a stage version of her World War 1 short film A Small Dot On The Western Front which she wrote, produced and directed, an experimental short film Spring on the Strand (selected for 3 festivals in the USA), The Penny Dropped (Award of Merit in a US shorts competition), and Home to the Hangers newly completed for the Directors UK Alexa Challenge 2017.

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Posted on Mar 7, 2016

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