Director: James Vanderbilt
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, David Lyons, Dermot Mulroney, Rachael Blake
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Nudity And Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://sonyclassics.com/truth/
Opening Day: 17 March 2016
Synopsis: On the morning of September 9, 2004, veteran CBS News producer MARY MAPES (Cate Blanchett) believed she had every reason to feel proud of a broadcast journalism job well done. By the end of the day, Mapes, CBS News, and the venerable CBS News anchor DAN RATHER (Robert Redford) would be under harsh scrutiny. The evening before, 60 Minutes II had aired an investigative report, produced by Mapes and reported on-air by Rather, that purported to reveal new evidence proving that President George W. Bush had possibly shirked his duty during his service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974. The piece asserted that George W. Bush had not only exploited family connections and political privilege to avoid the Vietnam War by joining the Texas Air National Guard, but he had failed for many months to fulfill his most basic Guard obligation—showing up on base. Mapes and her team of researchers had scrambled under a tight deadline to pull together both onair eyewitness testimony and newly-disclosed documents to make their case, and they felt confident that their story was solid. In the lead-up to the 2004 Bush v. Kerry presidential election, the “Bush-Guard” story could have had profound ramifications. But within days after the story broke, George W. Bush’s military service record was no longer the focus of media and public scrutiny. Instead, it was 60 Minutes, Mapes, and Rather who were under question: the documents supporting their investigation were denounced as forgeries, and the 60 Minutes staff was accused of shoddy journalism or, perhaps worse, accused of being duped. Eventually, Mapes would lose her job and reputation. Dan Rather would step down prematurely as CBS News anchor. How did attention end up focused on the journalists who questioned the official version of the story? How did the minutiae of document typefaces, line breaks, and superscripts become seemingly more important to the national discourse than the question of whether the President had failed to fulfill his military obligations? Have journalistic integrity and independence been fundamentally altered in today’s newsrooms and boardrooms? TRUTH is based on Mary Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power (2005, St. Martin’s Press).
We were pretty excited when we first saw the trailer of this American political docudrama film. Just look at the cast gathered – Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, Carol), Robert Redford (All is Lost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Topher Grace (TV’s That ‘70s Show, Interstellar), Dennis Quaid (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, The Words), Elisabeth Moss (TV’s Mad Men, Meadowlands) and Bruce Greenwood (The Place Beyond the Pines, Star Trek Into Darkness). The number of wins and nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and other acting accolades is astonishing.
However, much to our surprise, the $9.6 million movie bombed at the box office, only taking in $4.9 million. It didn’t receive much attention here in the local theatres as well, with only one screen amongst the many, many multiplexes available. How is this possible, considering the subject matter explored? The James Vanderbilt directed film focuses on the Killian documents controversy, based on American journalist and television news producer Mary Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.
If you are as uninformed as this reviewer, go check the Internet and you’ll realise how this is kind of a big deal for CBS News in 2004. Without giving away too much, this incident marked the last days of established news anchor Dan Rather and his long time collaborating producer Mapes.
In the months before the US 2004 presidential election, Mapes (Blanchett in a fiercely powerful role) and her crew obtain documents which point to the fact that President George W Bush, then seeking re election, received preferential treatment from officials of the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. A news programme was aired on 60 Minutes Wednesday, with Rather as the anchor. And as the cynical world will have it, the documents were called into question, and a controversy soon surfaces about the documents being forgeries.
What we like about this film are the commanding performances from the ensemble cast, from veterans like Blanchett and Redford, to younger actors like Grace and Moss. It is a pity though, that Quaid’s screen presence is limited (not that it is a very glaring thing about the movie). Greenwood also delivers an anchored performance.
What’s more striking to this reviewer is how the world we live in today is indeed a muddy mess. Considering this incident took place more than 10 years ago, one can only imagine the muddling aftermath of truth and integrity with the advent of social media. As Blanchett’s Mapes rightfully points out in one memorable scene, the emphasis on unimportant things distracts people from focusing on the big picture, the greater point of things. People are always looking out for others’ mistakes, coming up with conspiracy theories, and ever ready to jump on someone else’s wrong doings to show how self righteous they are.
And that is probably why this 125 minute movie didn’t go down well with most people. We may be so cynical in this time and age, that we want to discredit the work done by others. It is not a pretty view, with how we think we are smarter than the system. Gone indeed, are the good old days of appreciating the system. And the negative reception of this movie is a fine example of this phenomenon.
(Powerful performances aside, there is some truth in this badly received film - that we often focus on the wrong things and miss out on the bigger picture)
Review by John Li