Truth (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

film truth-smThe script is a little too clunky and on the nose, and there’s too much audience hand-holding.

 

 

film truth

Cate Blanchett is probably my favorite actress of her generation, and, I’d argue, also probably the best. In the new James Vanderbilt film Truth she plays Mary Mapes, the real-life Peabody Award–winning news producer and one of Dan Rather’s most trusted associates. Mapes is a strong, interesting figure, and it’s a role that would be hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Blanchett.

Truth comes in with Mapes circa 2004, when she’s just coming off of breaking the Abu Ghraib story, and is getting into the question of whether George W. Bush was AWOL during his (negligible to start with) time with the National Guard as a young man. Mapes and her team at 60 Minutes run with the story on a tight deadline and without as much work as it deserved, and since they all didn’t have all of their details as squared away as one would have hoped, it came to result in a major falling out between CBS and the Mapes/Rather team.

While Blanchett is mostly good, her performance isn’t quite as consistent as I’ve come to enjoy. She’s excellent in scenes in which Mapes is a headstrong, unflappable, smart-as-hell woman, but anytime Blanchett needs to show much in the way of emotion, be it happiness or sadness, she doesn’t entirely sell it. Better is Robert Redford in the easier role of Dan Rather—“easier” not because it’s an easy role, but more that he just doesn’t have nearly as much screen time and dialogue as Blanchett.

My mild disappointment with Blanchett’s performance extends to the rest of the film: It’s not bad, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac as well as having worked on the screenplays for the two Amazing Spider-Man films, also served as screenwriter here, and his script is a little too clunky and on the nose. There’s too much audience hand-holding, including some very forced dialogue pertaining to what superscript is when that becomes a plot point (does anyone who would see a film like this not know what superscript is?), and some embarrassing exchanges that mostly involve the young hotshot journalist Mike Smith, played by Topher Grace, who seems to think he’s playing Chandler Bing. He isn’t helped by clunkers such as, while sitting next to Rather, “Hey, I never got to ask you. Why did you get into journalism?”

It won’t do Truth any favors to be released in the same year as Tom McCarthy’s forthcoming, and vastly superior, Spotlight, which is a somewhat comparable newsroom procedural. And while I haven’t seen Todd Haynes’ Carol as of this writing, that’s another Blanchett vehicle set to be released soon for which she’s getting stronger notices, so Truth is likely to be forgotten about in pretty short order. But why?

It’s troublesome that this feels like it should have been so good, but isn’t. Here’s a theory: When the shit hits the fan with the Bush AWOL story, it is Mapes, the producer, who gets the blame. So let’s place the blame for Truth’s faults on its producer, Brett Ratner, one of the worst schlockmeisters working in Hollywood right now. (In fairness, I doubt Ratner has much to do with this film’s faults, but I don’t mind assigning him the blame anyway.) | Pete Timmermann

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