Armed with an all-star cast, Truth wades into the world of investigative journalism seeking to bloody some noses. The movie does land some good blows, with some wonderful performances and a compelling dramatisation of the journalistic process (in itself a tall order), but it lacks a coherent tone and lurches between genres. What Truth delivers to the viewer is a rather thin and simplistic piece, but one that is enjoyable on face value.
Based on the memoirs of CBS News 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, the film follows her, played splendidly by Cate Blanchett, as she assembles a ‘crack team’ (yes, seriously) of journalists to go after a story about George W. Bush allegedly receiving preferential treatment during his time in the Texas Air National Guard. The film sets off and very comfortably settles into a light-hearted portrayal of newsgathering with Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Elisabeth Moss’ researcher characters merrily writing things down on whiteboards and sticking things on wall charts. The script is competent although rather prone to preach, mainly on the nature of journalistic integrity, and the chemistry between Blanchett and Robert Redford’s anchor Dan Rather is genuine and touching. Truth also pulls off the impressive trick of turning the minutiae of journalism, such as font examination and the availability of the superscript ‘th’ on 1970s typewriters, into exciting plot points and breathless sequences.
At the core of Truth is, well, truth, and the ceaseless search for it. Mapes is repeatedly painted as someone with an obsession with asking questions and the diligence to uncover the answers, and the same goes for Redford’s Rather. So what comes as the most jarring shock to the audience is that, despite what writer-director James Vanderbilt would have you believe, Mapes and her team bungled the story almost from the outset. The film very abruptly swings from witty journo drama to tense thriller with the revelation that the investigation was riddled with mistakes and oversights, but this is completely at odds with everything that the film has shown up to that point. This is best illustrated by the fact that one of Mapes’ crucial errors in the investigation is never actually shown, but instead recounted in the form of a bizarre ‘Oh, don’t you remember that thing we were talking about off screen’ conversation between Mapes and another character. Blanchett comes to the picture’s rescue by superbly depicting Mapes’ unravelling, but the film’s insistence on lauding its characters as paragons of honesty and integrity is utterly baffling.
In many ways, Truth’s biggest strength and most fatal flaw is its source material. The real-life story provides plenty of excitement, political intrigue, and a condemnation of a widely-derided political figure in George W. Bush. The underlying themes of challenging authority and undermining the might of ingrained power structures are a little corny, but can make for compelling cinema, case in point the Oscar-nominated Spotlight. It’s the influence of Mapes’ memoirs that muddies the waters and flies in the face of everything the film has been eulogising. It’s her agenda that seems best represented in the film’s conclusion and when Topher Grace’s character finally starts ranting about conspiracy theories involving CBS, Truth’s death rattle is well and truly sounded.
Truth is a digestible and enjoyable look at the world of news journalism which is fortunate enough to feature strong outings from its core cast. Regrettably, its inconsistent tone and wealth of contradictions ensure that the film does not stand up to the inquisitive and questioning attitude that it so desires its audience to adopt.
Words by Fraser Kay