I usually find myself agreeing with the sentiment that one should judge a film by what it is, rather than by what it isn’t. But, Truth isn’t Spotlight.
Like Tom McCarthy’s impressive awards darling, James Vanderbilt’s Truth is another journalism movie about exposing an American ‘scandal’. But, whereas, Spotlight told a story that transcended it’s Boston setting, both narratively and emotionally, Truth never really extends beyond its firmly stateside issue.
Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the whizz news reporter at CBS’ Sixty Minutes most famous for the part she played in breaking the Abu Ghraib scandal. While searching for an upcoming story, she stumbles across a set of documents that seem to suggest George W. Bush’s avoidance of Vietnam was more methodical than anyone had ever thought. Mapes and her team (a second tier ensemble when compared to Spotlight, but accomplished nonetheless; Elizabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid etc.) run the story in collaboration with esteemed news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford). Things soon take a turn, however, as waves of online bloggers begin to question the authenticity of the documents in question.
The film suffers from the fact that I, a pacifist-inclined, young Brit, couldn’t care less whether a US president skipped conscription or not. Yes, military favouritism isn’t ideal and it sucks that those guys got to stay behind when so many of their peers had to go over and risk their lives for their country, but I can’t say I was all that outraged. Vanderbilt, who writes here as well, does make an effort to expand the scope of the piece in order to address wider issues of journalism and the importance of a free press, but the fact that I wasn’t that stirred by the initial investigation does take its toll.
On a more positive note, like Spotlight, Truth should be applauded for a somewhat grounded representation of journalistic practices. It doesn’t demonstrate quite the same hard graft of McCarthy’s Best Picture winner (trawling through documents takes seconds rather than minutes), but its portrayal of reporters as plucky, determined busybodies is a welcome one.
That being said, Vanderbilt doesn’t blend his characters into the drama all that successfully. Mapes and Rather’s complex working relationship starts to take centre stage as the film progresses, leading to a series of shots that flood Rather in a bizarre hagiographic glow, both literally and metaphorically. Then, on the other hand, you have Elizabeth Moss who is ‘blended’ far too well, in a waste of her supreme talent.
In the end, Truthwears its politics on its sleeve. This is very much presented as a liberal hurrah for the free press and the influence of some very important journalists. It may come across as too celebratory at times and it lacks the devastating relevance of Spotlight, but it does have its own nostalgic charms.
A big thank you to the FDA for hosting the screening!