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"TRUTH"
(2015) (Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A TV news crew must contend with allegations that their "60 Minutes" piece -- covering President George W. Bush's time in the National Guard -- is politically motivated and filled with errors.
PLOT:
It's 2004 and Mary Mapes (CATE BLANCHETT) is a senior broadcast producer for CBS's news show "60 Minutes" that features a number of on-air anchors, including Dan Rather (ROBERT REDFORD) who also anchors the network's main evening news show. When Mary gets wind of further evidence about President George W. Bush's reportedly blemished record in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, she gets permission from Executive Producer Josh Howard (DAVID LYONS) and Senior Vice President Betsy West (RACHAEL BLAKE) to proceed with the story, although due to scheduling issues, they have just a little over a week to get the story together to air.

Mary and her team -- retired Lt. Col. Roger Charles (DENNIS QUAID), journalism professor Lucy Scott (ELISABETH MOSS) and researcher Mike Smith (TOPHER GRACE) -- immediately get to work, interviewing the likes of retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett (STACY KEACH) who confirms the validity of documents that don't shine a good light on Bush's time in the Guard.

But when the story airs, the backlash is fast and furious, including calling into question the authenticity of those documents, all of which puts the network and its president, Andrew Heyward (BRUCE GREENWOOD), in an unwanted spotlight. With the pressure coming down on them and especially Mary, whose husband, Mark Wrolstad (JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY), tries to be as supportive as possible, the team scrambles to prove that their work is factual.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Back when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, if there was one common denominator in our weekly lives, it was watching Walter Cronkite anchor the CBS Evening News Monday through Friday at 6:30 pm. I was in utero during his most famous broadcast covering the assassination of President Kennedy, but definitely remember bits and pieces of the coverage of man's first step on the Moon six years later.

At the time, Cronkite was known as the most trusted man in America, always signing off with his signature "And that's the way it is," a proclamation that few if any doubted. While he eventually let his personal view mix with his reporting of the news (regarding the Vietnam War), he was otherwise viewed as an apolitical anchor and reporter, simply doing his job like so many before him.

Veteran reporter Dan Rather took over his seat in 1981, but never quite captured the public's fancy like his predecessor, and ultimately left CBS due to a disputed news report on "60 Minutes" regarding then President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The events that resulted in that are now featured in "Truth," a drama about rushed news reporting, increased corporate involvement in TV news, and politically based efforts to discredit any story -- and those who do the reporting -- should that go against one's leanings and current party official.

I have no idea how much of what's presented in writer/director James Vanderbilt's screenplay is true. Obviously much of the dialogue has presumably been fabricated, but the same holds true for Aaron Sorkin's work in "Steve Jobs," and you don't see a lot of people getting bent out of shape over that. But it's true that CBS won't allow any paid advertising for this film on its network, and that the pic wasn't included in David Edelstein's roundup of fall films featured on the network's CBS Sunday Morning show.

With the disclaimer in place, it's the job of any reviewer to critique a film based on the artistic merits of what's presented on the screen. And in this case, "Truth" is a solid piece of filmmaking all across the board. In it, Cate Blanchett stars as a producer on "60 Minutes" who gets wind of damning documents regarding Bush's time in the Guard, and she and her team (played by Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Elizabeth Moss) rush to get the story ready for air, doing their best to dot their i's and cross their t's in regards to evidence.

Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford who previously played a reporter whose story could bring down POTUS in "All the President's Men") then anchors the story on "60 Minutes" and the backlash starts almost immediately. Beyond accusations of unreliable witnesses, there's the matter of a font seen on the documents used.

The allegations are that it didn't exist back in the "Nam era, while questions also pop up about whether there was a political agenda behind the story, what with it being an election year. Soon, various CBS executives (including Bruce Greenwood playing the network president) are coming down hard on the team that's scrambling to prove their story and the reporting behind it is legit.

Vanderbilt (who previously wrote the scripts for the likes of "Zodiac," "White House Down" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" before segueing here into directing for the first time) keeps things moving along at a good clip in the vein of any political thriller. What's perhaps most interesting is the examination of the hunter (the investigative news crew) becoming the hunted (by those who want to discredit them and then some), and how they react to that unexpected switcheroo.

Not surprisingly, Blanchett is at the top of her game here, and her performance could show up come awards nomination time. I don't think the same will happen for Redford who doesn't try to look or sound like Rather, but somehow manages to transform, by the end of the film, into a believable representation of him. Supporting performances are strong across the board, although I was hoping for a meatier role for Moss (who was so good in TV's "Mad Men") who otherwise doesn't get much to do.

So, all in all, it's a solid drama with good to strong performances, a compelling story and able direction. Can it be trusted for telling the truth like Cronkite of old? I'll leave that up to the political and news experts. But I can say that "Truth" more than works for what it's trying to do and be, and thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 8, 2015 / Posted October 23, 2015


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