Thursday, 18 August 2016
In September 2004, CBS’s 60 Minutes, anchored by respected veteran anchor Dan Rather, led with a story that cast doubt on the then president George W Bush's service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974.
In the aftermath of the story breaking, the authenticity of the key documents that shaped CBS's story was called into question, along with the conduct of the reporting team led by producer Mary Mapes who were forced to cut corners to reach deadlines enforced on them by the channel itself. Critics were quick to argue that the team had been duped, that the documents were fake and that poor and biased journalism had sought to tarnish an incumbent president seeking reelection. Pretty soon, the story was no longer about whether Bush shied away from active service and was protected by his superiors thanks to political pressure, it was about the documents and the doubt thrown upon them, and then eventually the CBS news team itself became the news. With pressure from above and arguably from the White House itself, 60 Minutes was subsequently forced to retract and apologise for the story they broke and Dan Rather's twenty+ years with CBS came to an acrimonious close, whilst Mapes - who received a torrent of vitriolic online abuse and unbearable scrutiny - never worked in TV news again.
Truth, the directorial debut from James Vanderbilt(the screenwriter of David Fincher's acclaimed Zodiac), is based on Mapes’s own memoir, as such it's only right that the film comes firmly down on Mapes's side - something which some critics and audiences don't seem to appreciate. Like the actual event it depicts, Truth has had some unfair and unjust scorn and derision poured upon it and I cannot see why. Sure, its script is a little hokey and it tries a little too hard to be inspiring in a year when Spotlight rightly walked away with an accurate and rewarding experience of crusading journalism at its best. Truth was perhaps always going to play second fiddle (and arguably even third fiddle when you consider how Aaron Sorkin's second season of The Newsroom detailed a fictional duping perpetrated against the news team) but the brickbats it has received does make me wonder if the nature of the story CBS sought to break is still the key here. Or maybe people just didn't want to see a film in which the heroes lose and the ultimate findings are, in the general consensus, begrudgingly considered inconclusive at best, or scurrilously false at worst.
Cate Blanchett is her usual reliable and impressive self as Mapes, a celebrated journalist juggling the demands of the job in this new demanding media world which sees stories being fitted around Billy Graham and Dr Phil specials, her troubled and abused childhood and her own family life, whilst Robert Redford provides a stately, dignified presence as Rather. It's just a shame that the rest of the team, including Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Elizabeth Moss (the silly scientologist clearly not taking the message from the film to 'ask questions'), are given scarcely fleshed out or developed characters to perform.