Review: Truth (TIFF 2015)
PLOT: The true story of the events leading to Dan Rather's (Robert Redford) contentious CBS exit, revolving around the controversial 60 Minutes II story that exposed the preferential treatment given to George W. Bush during his Vietnam-era military service.
REVIEW: TRUTH is a film I'm convinced I would have appreciated more had I seen it a few days ago. A slick, often overwrought, transparently oscar-baity drama, there's nothing especially wrong with TRUTH but there's nothing particularly good about it either. While the Rather/60 Minutes controversy is interesting, writer/first-time-director James Vanderbilt struggles to turn it into compelling fare despite the presence of Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in the two leads.
I say that I would have liked it better a few days ago because back then I hadn't seen SPOTLIGHT and given that both films are about dogged journalists pursuing the truth, the comparison isn't one the team behind TRUTH should push as despite its pedigree this can't hold a candle to that naturalistic, highly disciplined effort.
By contrast, TRUTH is all Hollywood all the way. Vanderbilt's screenplay might have made for a decent movie with a surer hand at the helm, but for a first time director it comes off as horribly manipulative and cloying. The journalists here are deified in a way that doesn't suit the story, with lots of dramatic music, including a hilariously-clumsy assembling the team sequence which seems lifted out of ARMAGEDDON, right down to a slow-motion shot of Dennis Quaid in his Marine uniform standing in the rain while saluting in slow-motion.
As much as this is being teased as a Dan Rather bio-pic, with Robert Redford getting most of the buzz going into the fest, in reality he is a peripheral figure here. Redford is actually quite good in that he doesn't try to ape Rather's mannerisms too closely nor does he rely on a lot of makeup. TRUTH is mostly centered around Mary Mapes, who was Rather's trusted producer and the one who ultimately takes the fall when controversy erupts around one document at the heart of the investigation into George W. Bush's military record. Cate Blanchett is without a doubt one of our great actresses, but while many of the TIFF reviews coming out of this are saying she's great, this isn't a really solid performance. In fact, Blanchett has been better in just about every other film she's done.
A throwback to classic film stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Blanchett gives big performances, but the unsteady directing makes Blanchett come off here like she's doing a BLUE JASMINE repeat as Mapes gets unhinged. Her sturdy professionalism and smarts are not well-conveyed, especially if you do research into Mapes' sterling career. Vanderbilt tries to do a lot, especially by suggesting a kind of surrogate father/daughter relationship between Rather and Mapes, but it all feels like window dressing, especially when the story itself, which says something important about journalistic ethics, should be so compelling. It's like Vanderbilt didn't have confidence in his own premise.
The rest of the cast takes a backseat to Blanchett although Dennis Quaid gets a few solid moments as a military man-turned journalist while Stacy Keach has a good cameo as the source who puts Mapes and Rather's careers in jeopardy. Topher Grace does decent work as Blanchett's hot-head researcher, but some of his scenes are horribly over-written with too many grandstanding speeches that don't feel natural. Meanwhile, the great Elisabeth Moss is wasted in a nothing role as another journalist on Blanchett's team.
As much as I didn't care for it, there probably is an audience out there for TRUTH and had it not played TIFF alongside so many incredible films, it might have come off OK. Overall though, this is a very mediocre docu-drama about an event that should have been fascinating. Maybe a good documentary where Mapes and Rather could have told their own story would have been a better fit.