Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James Vanderbilt
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, Noni Hazlehurst, Dermot Mulroney, John Benjamin Hickey, David Lyons, Andrew McFarlane, Connor Burke, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Philip Quast, Steve Bastoni, Chris Mulkey, Martin Sacks, Nicholas Hope .
All The President’s Men stands as a touchstone procedural movie about investigative journalism. In that 1976 film, which was based on actual events, two dogged Washington Post journalists probed a burglary at the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate complex in the lead up to the 1972 election, and the investigation uncovered a chain of corruption that eventually brought down a sitting US President.
Set during the lead up to the 2004 Presidential election, Truth is an All The President’s Men for the digital era. It explores big themes, such as the relevancy of television news in the era of the Internet, the duty of journalists to report the truth without bias, grubby politics, and the naked abuse of political power. And it also makes us wonder if the world would be a much different and better place if Al Gore had won the 2000 election.
George W Bush had won the 2000 election by the narrowest of margins, following a controversial recount in Florida, the state where his younger brother served as Governor. There was a campaign to try and discredit the Vietnam war record of Democrat candidate John Kerry.
Veteran 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) had broken to story about the systematic torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In the lead up to the 2004 election she was given some documents that called into question George W Bush’s military service. The documents, which became known as “the Killian documents” were critical of Bush’s military service. They suggested that the Bush family used political connections to enable George Bush to avoid the draft in the early 70s. Instead of being sent off to fight in Vietnam he served in the Texas Air National Guard. But these documents also purportedly proved that Bush shirked his duty in the National Guard as well, and that his claims about his military service were based on a lie.
Mary engaged a crack team to try and verify the documents, including associate producer Lucy Scott (Elizabeth Moss), military expert and former soldier Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), and freelance journalist Mike Smith (Topher Grace). They read through pages of documents and questioned various sources and military personnel, including Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), in an effort to authenticate the explosive documents.
The 60 Minutes report went to air. But instead of bringing down a President as expected, the news story backfired and destroyed the reputation of revered CBS news anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford), one of the most respected journalists of the era. After the story aired, a media storm erupted and there were claims that the documents supplied to the team were forgeries. There was a lot of trivia and counterclaims about font sizes and other minutiae, and eventually the original thrust of the story got lost. History records that Bush went on to win the election by a landslide and both Mapes and Rather lost their jobs at CBS.
This is the first feature film directed by James Vanderbilt, who has established his reputation as a writer with films like Zodiac, The Amazing Spiderman and White House Down to his credit. He has adapted Mapes’ own 2005 memoir about the scandal. While Truth explores some complex issues, it is heavily dialogue driven, which will make it hard going for many viewers. Vanderbilt tries to make scenes of journalists chasing a paper trail and interviewing witnesses seem exciting, and he does manage to inject a sense of tension throughout the material.
This is the type of political thriller that Redford made in the 70s. Redford, who also played Bob Woodward, another real life veteran newsman in All The President’s Men forty years ago, brings gravitas and authority to his portrayal of the veteran newsman Dan Rather. Blanchett makes for a strong and determined Mapes and delivers another rounded performance. There are a lot of Australians in the cast, including Andrew MacFarlane (from The Sullivans, etc) as Mary’s lawyer, Lewis Fitz-gerald, Martin Sacks (from Blue Heelers, etc), and Noni Hazlehurst, who has a stand out moment as Burkitt’s wife.
Although Truth is an exploration of investigative journalism and politics, it somehow falls short of the far superior All The President’s Men. Nonetheless it is still a compelling and provocative film that will make audiences think about recent history.