Truth is the story of the scandal involving CBS news reporting it had documents proving George W. Bush’s National Guard Service was suspect and that he went AWOL for almost a year during it. Mary Mapes is the hard-nosed reporter who carries the investigation on her shoulders and who pays the greatest price, when the whole investigation goes south. Dan Rather, her friend and mentor, and of course the anchor of the CBS Evening News and star of 60 Minutes, which produced the story, backs Mapes as fully as he can until they both end up losing their jobs. The clear message of the film is this: we may have made some mistakes but the story was true despite our failures, and we shouldn’t be punished because of that deeper value.

This heavy-handed piece of hagiography is no All the President’s Men in any case, but it could have still been so much better. Every shred of evidence has to be trotted out to look like the news team did every thing they could to be objective in the case, and few really think they were. Dorothy Rabinowitz, writing in the Wall Street Journal (“Dan Rather: Still Wrong After All These Years”, WSJ October 19, 2015) begins her piece with this: “Combine every speech about the nobility of the journalistic endeavor in every film glorifying reporters intrepidly searching out truth, and you still won’t come close to grasping the level of treacle—there are other words—bubbling up out of Truth.” The piece never gets kinder than this, and shows how mistaken anyone is to accept this movie’s take on the events as the “truth” about Bush’s service. If the writers had simply made the reporters look a little less saintly and a little more suspect, the film might have pulled itself out of its pompous position (Truth as a title? Come on) and been more useful as a piece of informative entertainment.

As it is, once again the actors give any benefit this movie may have as entertainment value, and even that is not much. Cate Blanchett plays Mapes, and portrays her as driven and torn between family, the story and eventually saving her own skin while protecting Rather’s. The venerable Robert Redford is Dan Rather, and is simply too old for the part. Though Rather was seventy-three, when the piece aired in 2004, he looked considerably younger. Redford looks, if anything, older than his seventy-nine years, and his deliberate movements get in the way of what we remember as Rather’s crisp, confident demeanor. In fact the supporting cast of Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacey Keach and others actually give the ballast needed to the two headliners. Blanchett overacts in this role and Redford is bland, though of course Mapes seems to have been an overly dramatic person herself and Rather was a bland person so perhaps they shouldn’t be criticized for this.

The writing is decent. There is a nice weaving in of psychological issues with father, projected onto Dan Rather, as motivation for Mapes’s persistence until she gets the story she wants. This subtext of course, though, just seems to provide more ammunition for those who see the film as wanting to sugar coat CBS News’s egregious errors in this embarrassing affair.

Whatever you think of its politics or of its many flaws, the movie does do one thing well, and that is portray the news industry and its penchant for the lost art of mentoring. At one point late in the film, Topher Grace, who plays a young reporter, answers, “You”, when asked by Rather why he got into journalism, and the theme of Rather’s influence in Mapes’s life is deeply etched in the film.

More importantly, Mapes’s wretched relationship with her father is redeemed in the movie by her relationship to her surrogate father: Rather. The movie is based on Mapes’s memoir so one can’t really blame Rather for his portrayal as little short of a god in the film, but that’s irrelevant anyway. If one looks at these two not as historical personages but as characters in a movie, the viewer can appreciate much about what the relationship of a mentor and mentee should be like. Redford, despite the criticisms described above, is best in his scenes with her. And the writing is best when they are focused together on the job at hand. Aristotle once wrote that friendship is best accomplished by two people doing one thing together with one mind. Friendship is almost defunct in our Facebook world, but Truth says a lot about what it can look like.

Drew Trotter

November 12, 2015

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