James Vanderbilt’s Truth is of the genre that All the President’s Men is, even employing one of its stars, Robert Redford. It, too, tells the tale of a President of the United States under severe scrutiny. Both show the tremendous pressure and hard work of journalists and their duty to get the story right. The main difference among the numerous similarities? Whereas Redford’s 1976 Oscar nominated picture was confident enough to mostly eschew unneeded overdramatization, Truth is not. It’s a hindrance that causes it to pale in comparison.
Set against the backdrop of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, the film focuses on CBS News and its digging into the President’s three decades old plus National Guard record. Producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) works for 60 Minutes and is especially close to the network’s veteran news anchor Dan Rather (Redford). The pair and their colleagues believe they have a credible story covering lapses in Bush’s attendance in the Guard – a time when Vietnam was in its darkest days. A story is aired just months before the reelect, but potential inconsistencies rise up immediately. Some are from serious sources. Others come from the burgeoning blogosphere.
Truth explores the inner workings of news today, corporate politics, real politics, and journalistic integrity. These are subjects that have been covered before and covered more satisfactorily. I’ve already mentioned Redford’s classic from 40 years ago. There’s also Network. And Spotlight. The pic’s flaws don’t lie with the acting, even though this will not rate among Blanchett’s best performances. Redford gives a passable take on Rather. Their coworkers, including Topher Grace as a freelancer and Dennis Quaid as a military affairs expert, aren’t given any time for their characters to be anything other than caricatures.
Blanchett is a tremendous actress but there are times when even she seems to be overdoing it. Not as much as Truth itself, though. From its sweeping score to reaction shots of Mary’s young child watching her work in awe on the tube, Truth often seems distracted by its own perceived virtue instead of just sticking to the facts. The subject matter is by its nature fascinating and there are occasionally well dramatized touches here. Yet President’s Men and Spotlight were confident enough in their stories to simply tell them to intriguing results. Truth rather tries too hard and often rings false for it.
** (out of four)