She gave us Elizabeth over fifteen years ago, and then she followed it up with Benjamin Button, Veronica Guerin, the Aviator, Blue Jasmine, and now Truth. No one could have played an incisive, embattled and emotionally unbeatable character as well as Cate Blanchett. She is by far one of the greats of modern day English cinema.
Truth brings to us the story that had the potential to blow up the presidential campaign of George W Bush in 2004 when CBS had uncovered a set of documents that were evidence that Bush’s military record was doctored. However, the scandal left the then President Bush unscathed, and claimed CBS producer Mary Mapes as victim and ended the glorious career of the inimitable journalist Dan Rather. The film is about how the system is rigged and the deck is stacked against anyone who tries to question the status quo. The film is about the right of the media to ask questions and how our modern day journalism is about TRPs and juicy celebrity gossip and the real pressing issues attract zero to little attention. But more than anything, the film is about the common person/activist who can never aspire to fight the evil that is capitalism and its cronies, given its deep rooted and all-pervasive tentacles that hold us perpetually hostage.
CBS news producer Mary Mapes (played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett) comes across some documents, through an undisclosed source, which potentially expose the truth behind George W Bush’s military record, as he is running to seek re-election in 2004. The news station (CBS’s 60 minutes) is cautiously tempted, seeing as this might be the big story that will turn the election. With interesting documentary footage from what was happening at the time, filmmaker James Vanderbilt creates a high energy, engaging narrative that stumbles only a few times and gets right back up. The soul of the film is Cate Blanchett, playing Mary Mapes, but this film would have been incomplete without Robert Redford playing the unassuming, unconditionally guiding hand Dan Rather, who supports Mapes no matter what.
As the team led by Mapes begins to unravel, corroborating what happened and asking themselves if Bush did lie about his military record, the stakes begin to rise and professional reputations of a lifetime are on the line. The narrative is nicely paced and makes you keep step with the journalistic team that’s racing against a deadline to break the news story. The story comes out and less than twenty-four hours later, all hell breaks loose. The idea that a small time news producer/journalist could take on the might of a US President is ludicrous even in thought.
While the film is about uncovering the truth no matter what, it leaves one wondering what the point of it all is. What is the point of trying to fight battles for justice and equality and transparency, when the system is hellbent upon ensuring the opposite? This question is ably answered by Mapes’s husband Robert Mapes, played reticently by actor Connor Burke. He sees his wife feeling like the world is caving around her, as CBS faces an enquiry and Mapes is to testify in front of a group of lawyers, who are basically tasked with finding a scapegoat for the ‘false’ story about Bush’s military record. He tells her that no matter what, she must defend her work and the integrity with which she has always done it. While the system will do what it needs to, she must do her part.
The film starts off a little lethargically, but by the time we reach the mid-point, the pacing has caught up. While Blanchett and Redford’s characters are the core of the film, I liked Topher Grace playing rogue freelancer Mike Smith with a fine climactic scene that is intended to speak to the blatant corruption of our systems. David Lyons, who plays the young, trying to be ambitiously ruthless senior producer, takes both the shine and the burn for the fiasco that follows after the Bush story airs. Lyons does well with his small part in the narrative.
Vanderbilt also tries to explore Mapes’s childhood, including an abusive father that pretty much shaped her emotionally, as she continues to battle her demons well into her adulthood. This sub-narrative was very interesting, though needed a bit more thought and development.
With all of its American-centric gloss and journalistic drama, Truth speaks to a very important, existential problem as far as our societies are concerned, where the truth and its pursuit doesn’t matter anymore. And while ‘truth’ does remain this abstract idea that is limited by context and perspective, it does have an inherent power of questioning and discovery that humanity seems to be abandoning, if it hasn’t done so already.
Truth is now playing in theatres.