Without any of us actually realizing it, there’s one factor in our current, connected, perennially and pervasively connected lives that’s become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. And that integrated calculus derivative of the 21st century is news. No matter which spectrum of the social media you belong to – FOMO (Fear of missing out) or JOMO (Joy of missing out), there’s NOMO (NO missing out) as far as news is concerned. Smirk all you want, having escaped the deluge of news online and on TV, but as soon as you get into the local transport to get to work, you cannot help but stare and readsdrop into your neighbor’s newspaper, as you both click your tongues in disapproval at the state of affairs.
In such a scenario, movies based on journalistic stories are as important as the news they cover. And All the President’s Men is a movie that occupies the prime time by default in lives in a cinema hall. Whereas that story and movie documented the triumph and glory of news reporters striving to find the truth, Truth does the opposite – it documents the true story of the rise and fall of a crack team that attempts to crack a story that threatens the very re-election of the US president incumbent, George W. Bush.
Directed by debutante James Vanderbilt who also wrote the screenplay, Truth, despite its title, suffers from a vexatious backbone – it is based on Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power, written by Mary Mapes, the fire-brand producer of CBS ‘ 60 Minutes, and also one of the key protagonists of the story. Which means that pretty much the entire POV is Ms. Mapes’s, and that’s something, if you keep plan to keep aside, (and also overlook director Vanderbilt’s political leanings), will deliver a movie that’s extremely satisfying and gratifying. If, however, you cannot overlook these shadows and consider Bush Jr. to be a political theriac, you’re better off having a quiet drink in front of the Bush family portrait.
Welcome then, to the gutsy and superbly edited (by Richard Francis-Bruce) Truth that catches you by the collar and keeps you at the edge-of-the-seat throughout its running time of 125 minutes. You stare at the screen with widening amazement as Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) stumbles across documents that seem to prove that president Bush Jr. had gotten into the Texas Air National Guard solely based on his family connections; you gasp as you and Mapes learn that the president didn’t turn up for training, and also avoided being drafted for the Vietnam war.
Mapes forms a crack team at CBS, Dallas, consisting of Mike Smith (Topher Grace), Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid) – who actually served in Vietnam, and Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss). Mapes and team jump right into a maze of paper trail to find out the truth. Headlining and fronting the team is the CBS network’s money-spinning, award winning anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford.)
With some deft direction and superb footwork and smart acting chops by the cast, the story reaches an almost unbearable crescendo to when the CBS team gets its facts together, interviews Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach) – who is possession of the damning Killian documents – edits the story, and at the cusp of the airing time, actually gets the program together, that is then anchored by Dan Rather. There’s some breathless moments of investigative trails, frustrating roadblocks, some crisp humor and lots of mind-boggling facts that come to light.
But, the movie’s just begun with the airing of the story – as the story breaks, there’s an immediate reaction on the net to the supposed facts that make the story plausible. And just like that, within hours, the CBS team watches, as you do, with growing horror, the entire fact-based reporting demolished, inch by inch, word by word, font by font. There’s some superb drama and it is to director Vanderbilt’s credit that he keeps the story tight, focused, and free from snivelling self-flagellation. In fact, there’s no time for this, as the movie jumps into the team scrambling to salvage and join together pieces of their mercilessly shredded story, even they find the CBS management’s imprimatur slowly dissolve and convert into a heartless image-salvaging mission.
Director James Vanderbilt runs a tight ship, making Truth a superb docu-drama thriller. His shots are smart, clipped, and he keeps the pace and dialogues breathless and suspenseful, not letting the leash slacken one bit. Equally effective is Brian Tyler’s background score that remains there, and yet haunts, grips, and adds to your eye-widening exercises.
The cast is absolutely spot on – Topher Grace as the corporate outsider is great fun and full of wired energy. Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame) is effective and lends classy support to the proceedings. Dennis Quaid as the war veteran is superb – bemused, strong, and focused, he lends superb heft to the proceedings. As is John Benjamin Hickey as Mark Wrolstad, Mary’s supportive and empathetic husband. Bruce Greenwood is ever smooth and the corporate smart lion, playing the president of CBS News.
As Dan Rather, the charismatic and classy Robert Redford is just that – he knows he’s playing a news star, and he lends his own panache to the role. There’s a scene where as it’s all ending, he’s drinking and calls Mary Mapes, who’s having a quaffing session of her own. In that scene, aided by some beautiful dialogues, Redford’s Rather summarises the state of broadcasting affairs – of how, news metamorphosed from a staid facts-reporting business to plain business. In that scene, Redford, ever graceful, just does it so understatedly and brilliantly, you don’t even realize he’s acting.
And Cate Blanchett delivers a heartbreakingly brave performance as Mary Mapes. Her act is so strong, so assured, and so well done, she has you applauding for her. From the assured, strident, strong-willed Mary to the derided, haunted, and guilty producer, hers is an act that itself is worth the cost of your ticket (or original DVD/Blu-Ray.) She breaks your heart in the scene when she beseeches her father to not speak to the press. And when she watches Dan Rather’s CBS swansong from her living room, she makes you reach for your tissues as she does for hers.
Truth is an important movie, for, despite its obvious bias, it holds an uncomfortably tarnished mirror to our age of unceasingly manufactured and biased news reporting. It’s a smart showcase of how the powerful can choose to make chow out of investigative news if it doesn’t suit them. It’s an exercise in discomfiture as you realize that private news channels have a bigger axe to grind than state-owned news channels. It’s a peep into just how rotten the business of news is. It’s a compelling story of Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, aided by a super script and a superscript.
Watch the trailer of Truth here: