‘Truth’ Review: Not Better Than Fiction

'Truth'

Movie Rating:

2

As the laughably unsubtle title suggests, ‘Truth’ is a movie that strives to be something big and important about big and important subjects that we should all gaze upon in jaw-gaping awe. Indeed, the subject matter is rather important and based on a (wait for it) true story, but it’s presented in such a nauseatingly overblown and self-satisfied manner that audiences will stumble out feeling pummeled. ‘Truth’ is not necessarily a terrible movie, just one that batters viewers over the head with such blunt force that it feels like one.

The tale takes place in 2004, right before the polarized and contentious U.S. election. Cate Blanchett stars as Mary Mapes, the top producer at ’60 Minutes’ who sets her sights on a story about George W. Bush’s checkered military record. With superstar anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) standing behind her, Mapes assembles a crack team of Left-leaning journalists (Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) to go in for the kill. Gradually, they find a number of sources who can speak to the abuse of power that kept Bush out of Vietnam and the lazy nature of his homeland service. They also stumble onto some top secret documents that discuss his horrible military record. The story runs and causes a stir. Then the Right Wing blogs get hold of it and start picking apart the documents. That grows into a media frenzy with Mapes and her cohorts stuck on the chopping block. Caught up in a controversial haze and unfortunate corporate politics, they fight for their jobs and lose. Rather is forced into retirement and the rest of the team are kicked to the curb.

It’s an interesting story that delves not simply into journalistic ethics, but also the unfortunate and complicated nature of corporately owned news organizations that will crush those who dare to go against the grain of their own political interests. These are rich themes that seem ripe for the prestige movie treatment. Unfortunately, writer/director James Vanderblit was far too aware of the potential social relevance of his film and pushed that home hard. Most of the dialogue isn’t a reflection (or even stylization) of human speech patterns, but a collection of didactic monologues spat out with all the subtlety of an undergraduate political science essay. It’s the type of movie where characters look off-camera wistfully and say “This story matters” without a hint of irony.

To give Vanderblit some credit, he at least acknowledges the ambiguity of this particular tale. Mapes was rushed to an airdate that prevented the rigorous fact checking she normally employed. Some explanatory background material was cut from the story for time (and for being too dull), and no one ever proved unequivocally that the controversial documents were forgeries. Had the movie played out with the mixture of naturalism, mystery and ambiguity of Vanderbilt’s screenplay for David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’, the film might have worked rather wonderfully. However, the endless stream of politicized speeches that define the last third of ‘Truth’ completely undoes all of that.

Directing himself, Vanderblit didn’t have the cold distance of David Fincher to null overblown emotions and messages. He makes his points as if the Caps Lock button was stuck while writing the script. Even though some of the ranting works, most fails, especially when the corporate conspiracy theory is shoved into the mouth of a wobbling Topher Grace (not a bad actor in his own dorky way, but in no way the man who should be ranting with a sense of moral indignation).

All the performances are pitched to the subtlety level of the writing, which is to say that there’s none here. Robert Redford attempts to compensate for that by doing his deadpan “I’m Robert Redford. Watch me read lines in monotone” routine he’s been coasting on for a few years. It helps dull Vanderblit’s pointed pen, but doesn’t feel like a real performance. Everyone else goes big and loud and deafen viewers in the process.

It’s a testament to Cate Blanchett’s immense talent that she somehow survives. Her conviction never wavers and her intense screen presence somehow manages to pull off the mountains of didacticism that cripples her cast mates. In fact, the movie may even have worked had Blanchett played every part. At least that would have fit in with the overblown style Vanderblit applies elsewhere.

Regardless, ‘Truth’ must sadly be classified as a failure. It’s a well-meaning failure with strong moments, but a failure nonetheless.

1 comment

  1. Shannon Nutt

    Darn it, I was looking forward to this, although I was worried it wasn’t going to be that good. I guess I’ll wait and rent this one.

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