Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett star in Truth, based on a riveting true story of one of network news' biggest scandals. As a renowned producer and close associate of Dan Rather (Redford), Mary Mapes (Blanchett) believes she's broken the biggest story of the 2004 election: revelations of a sitting U.S. President's military service. But then allegations come pouring in, sources change their stories, document authenticity is questioned, and the casualties begin to mount. This dramatic thriller goes behind the scenes to expose the intricacies of journalistic integrity and what it takes to reveal the Truth.
"They want to talk about fonts and forgeries and conspiracy theories because that's what people do these days if they don't like a story. They point, they scream, they question your politics, your objectivity, hell, your basic humanity, and they hope to God the truth gets lost in the scrum."
Amid all the attention 'Spotlight' garnered last fall, another excellent movie about journalism got lost in the shuffle. 'Truth,' the directorial debut of writer James Vanderbilt (best known for adapting the acclaimed journalistic detective story, 'Zodiac'), absorbingly tells the true-life tale of how a controversial investigation into the military service of President George W. Bush tarnished the stellar reputation of CBS News and brought down anchor Dan Rather. Like 'Spotlight,' Vanderbilt's film incisively explores essential issues of journalistic ethics and how corporate interests often influence a story's production and presentation, but it also shows what happens when the journalists themselves become the story and their notoriety overshadows the merits of their reporting. In addition, it depicts a ruthless corporate culture in panic mode and how a respected news organization tries to cover its ass and maintain the public's trust while dealing with an internal crisis. It's a powerful, thought-provoking movie, and though its core story is riveting in its own right, it's surprisingly relatable on a number of non-journalistic levels, especially to those who have toiled in similar corporate environments and experienced any kind of unjust backlash.
It's August of 2004 and veteran TV news producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) is at the top of her game. She's tough, confident, intelligent, and a huge asset to CBS News. In April of that year, her riveting '60 Minutes II' report on the atrocities that transpired at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked and outraged viewers and government officials, and a few months later, on the eve of the presidential election, another scandalous story falls in her lap. This one examines whether strings were pulled to get President George W. Bush into the National Guard so he could avoid service in Vietnam, and whether, once safely ensconced in its ranks, he cavalierly shirked his duties, which in turn led officials to falsify records to cover up his indiscretions. Bush's military service had long been the subject of speculation by liberal opponents who ceaselessly sought to derail his bid for reelection, and with less than a month to go before voters cast their ballots, a sense of urgency hangs over this cloud of suspicion.
With the endorsement of her novice (and salivating) executive producers who hope this explosive investigation will boost their careers, Mapes dives headfirst into the story and assembles a crack team of journalists to help her put together the piece. Legendary CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford), one of Mapes' closest friends and collaborators, quickly jumps on board, as well as Lt. Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), Mike Smith (Topher Grace), and Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss). They obtain photocopied records that cover up Bush's AWOL status, and Mapes uses them as the centerpiece of her story to prove the President didn't fulfill his military commitments. Some questions are raised about the documents' authenticity during the harried production process, but Mapes finds an expert willing to validate them.
The story airs to much fanfare, but almost immediately a furor erupts over whether the documents were falsified. A superscript typeface that apparently wasn't in use in the early 1970s appears in the records, and a central document's alignment and spacing leads some to suggest it was created in Microsoft Word. Rival news organizations pounce on the discrepancies. Other ethical concerns soon arise, putting Mapes, Rather, and their team in the crosshairs of a rapidly expanding cause celebre that threatens to kick CBS News off its lofty pedestal, destroy its credibility, and cost the network millions.
It's an incredible - and incredibly engrossing - story, but the truth of 'Truth' has been hotly debated after its release. CBS, not surprisingly, vehemently objected to the film, refuted aspects of its plot, and refused to air ads promoting it. Others in the know have questioned the picture's integrity, claiming it wrongly champions the journalists involved and misrepresents the corporate reaction to their reporting and the ensuing scandal that erupted from it. Whether any of these issues are themselves true or contributed to the movie's failure at the box office is unknown, but if you put aside politics, ignore the outside controversy, and focus on 'Truth' as a film, you'll find it to be a polished, literate, and impressive production.
Vanderbilt's crackling screenplay, based on Mapes' memoir, beautifully propels the action, builds tension and suspense, and conveys a wealth of important ideas in a systematic, concise manner. His direction is equally assured, understated and, at times, poetic. Like a good journalist, he puts his story first and makes sure he hammers home potent points. 'Truth' isn't flashy, but it holds us spellbound from beginning to end. News junkies will especially appreciate its attention to detail and commitment to depicting the industry with both accuracy and artistry.
Because the issue of bias is a major story element, 'Truth' bends over backwards to present both sides of the coin. The script asks some tough questions. Were the reporters careful enough? Did they brandish a liberal bias from the start? Were the mistakes innocent or irresponsible? Can we forgive journalistic errors in the pursuit of the greater good? Was Mapes duped? (Some theorize Bush's righthand man, Karl Rove, engineered the entire incident to deflect attention away from facts that would irreparably damage his candidate.) The frantic rush to get the story on the air - to get great ratings and impact a presidential campaign at the eleventh hour - led to some sloppy reporting and cursory vetting of key documents that fueled the scandal and ultimately destroyed careers. Yes, the facts may have been correct, but in the end, no one cared. Without proper corroboration, the "truth" can become secondary, and the cogent examination of this explosive element heightens the importance of an already compelling film.
'Truth' also incisively chronicles what happens when news divisions are influenced by their corporate parents, and how Internet blogging can both act as a necessary watchdog and spawn politically driven witch hunts with far-reaching effects. Many can argue Mapes reaped what she sowed, and to its credit, the film doesn't absolve her of blame. But she was also just doing her job and doing it well, and the culture that cultivated Mapes and lofted her to the apex of her profession ultimately betrayed her without a second glance. As the incident spiraled out of control, it evolved into a platform for bigger, more philosophical issues, and the movie's final third focuses on those points with unflinching commitment.
Blanchett is flat-out magnificent as Mapes, filing a natural, magnetic, and impassioned portrayal. Yet just like 'Spotlight' has overshadowed 'Truth,' Blanchett's work in 'Carol' has eclipsed her equally stunning turn here. An actress of enormous range and versatility, Blanchett seems poised to supplant Meryl Streep from her throne, and her dazzling three-dimensional performance in this fascinating part rivals her best work. I'm not a big Redford fan, but he also shines in a tricky role. Is it a coincidence he's played two of America's most esteemed reporters, Bob Woodward and Dan Rather? Maybe portraying a journalist suits him, or maybe his bland acting style and iconic stature suit the stiff and reserved Rather. Whatever the case, Redford wisely evokes Rather without imitating him. He captures a few key mannerisms and vocal inflections, but never goes overboard, and the result is arguably his finest performance in years.
One of the irrefutable facts of 'Truth' is that Mapes is a controversial figure, but Vanderbilt's script and Blanchett's performance make it tough not to admire her. Whether she's right or wrong, innocent or guilty, biased or neutral, she's first and foremost a multi-faceted human being who commands our respect. Some of us have walked in her shoes in other arenas and gotten similarly screwed in the line of duty, and it's both that fundamental connection and the searing subject matter - which many of us witnessed as it unfolded - that make this movie resonate. 'Truth' may have some credibility issues (few true-life stories don't), but it's still a well-made, wonderfully written, finely acted, and altogether gripping film. It shouldn't have been overlooked when it was released in theaters, and it shouldn't be missed now.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Truth' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A leaflet containing the code to access the Digital HD with Ultraviolet copy is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, previews for 'Infinitely Polar Bear,' 'Irrational Man,' 'Labyrinth of Lies,' 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl,' 'Grandma,' and 'The Lady in the Van' precede the static menu with music.
Slick, vibrant, and razor sharp best describe the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Sony, which beautifully captures the claustrophobic and largely sterile interiors that permeate the film. The color palette intentionally fades as the story progresses to reflect the mounting strife, but hues always look vivid, and flesh tones - from Blanchett's creamy complexion to Quaid's ruddy appearance - remain natural and stable throughout. Not a stitch of grain and no specks, marks, or scratches disrupt the smoothness of the pristine source material, which always exudes a lovely warmth. Contrast is rich, blacks are true and deep, and close-ups nicely render tears, facial stubble, and furrowed brows. No noise or banding mar the presentation, and no digital enhancements seem to have been applied. This is a high-quality transfer that accurately represents the theatrical experience and director's intentions, and keeps us immersed in the story.
'Truth' is a dialogue-laden film that transpires largely in cramped offices, hotel rooms, and suburban homes, so there' snot much opportunity for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to strut its stuff. Clear, serviceable sound is about all we get, and it serves the movie well. Most of the audio is front-based, but the rears kick in every now and then, especially when planes are flying overhead or the characters venture onto city streets. All the conversations, whether hushed or heated, are easy to comprehend, and fine fidelity and tonal depth distinguish ?'s somber music score, which fills the room with ease. Weighty, if sporadic, bass frequencies punch up a few scenes (once again, mostly involving airplanes), and no distortion or surface noise creep into the mix. Audiophiles won't have much to rave about here, but the sound seamlessly complements the action, which is about all we can ask of it.
A few supplements add context and perspective to this true story adaptation.
Audio Commentary - An engaging commentary that often provides absorbing details about the movie's production. Vanderbilt talks about how "tricky" it was to get Mapes to agree to putting such a painful episode on film, and why he chose this particular vehicle as his directorial debut. He also recalls how he brought Blanchett on board, reveals he wrote the role of Rather with Redford in mind (he loved the idea of "a legend playing a legend"), and discusses the challenges of making a movie that largely features people sitting around tables talking both emotionally and visually stimulating. We also hear about the cooperation of Rather and Mapes, and learn the identity of a Deep Throat-like voice that's used in the film in this enlightening track.
Featurette: "'Truth': The Team" (HD, 9 minutes) - Most of the principal actors, along with writer-director James Vanderbilt and producer Brett Ratner, share their impressions of the story, discuss their respective characters, and comment on the authentic script, fair depiction of the issues, and the film's neutral perspective. Heavy praise for Blanchett and Redford also pervades this breezy and frustratingly shallow featurette.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 13 minutes) - Six excised/extended scenes are included, offering some additional character beats, but not too much substantive narrative moments.
'Truth' is one of the best movies of 2015 that you probably didn't see. James Vanderbilt's riveting chronicle of a journalistic scandal involving CBS News, Dan Rather, and President George W. Bush examines several hot-button issues within the framework of an engrossing story that's enhanced by excellent performances from Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, and a superior supporting cast. Sony's Blu-ray presentation features solid video and audio transfers, some good supplements, and a couple of high-def exclusives. Though it may not rival 'All the President's Men,' 'Truth' is a damn good journalism movie, a fascinating mystery, and an affecting portrait of strength and perseverance in the face of severe adversity. And it comes very highly recommended.