**** (out of five)
After a rocky start that doesn’t even try and sugar-coat a massive dose of exposition, Truth gains gravitas and excitement as it goes along, ultimately becoming a truly gripping fact-based journalistic thriller featuring, for my money, Cate Blanchett’s career-best lead performance. After a poor economic outing in the US, this excellent film has been dumped into very, very few cinemas in Australia with essentially zero promotion. I recommend you seek it out.
Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, who was a gun (US) 60 Minutes producer in the early 2000s, with a huge notch on her belt in the guise of a revelatory story she did with Dan Rather on that program exposing the horrendous abuse at Abu Ghraib. Here, Mapes and Rather (Robert Redford) assemble a crack team (Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Good Ol’ Dennis Quaid) to uncover and present a story questioning George W. Bush’s military training (which allowed him to conveniently skip going to VietNam). Things go right before they go very, very wrong.
There are about five weirdly bad moments in this film – cheesy camera / music combinations, oddly terrible lines of dialogue, misplaced sentimentality or “on-the-nose”-ness – but in general it’s fantastic. It examines these almost fantastical events with precision and balance: even though the screenplay (by first-time director James Vanderbilt) is based on a book by Mapes about the affair, it hardly paints her as a saint, and her motives, methods and professionalism are all put to the test and treated as fair game. Indeed, her faults are laid bare.
I’ve seen enough of Rather in documentaries, clips, awards shows, episodes of American 60 Minutes and so on to know that Redford is doing a spot-on portrait. He gets the vocal style, the physicality, and the intangible character aura that makes Rather Rather. Redford is a deeply skilled actor in the subtle style (check out his Sundance Kid and All Is Lost as a double feature to see a career of achievement in an afternoon) and Rather is right in his wheelhouse. Rather and Mapes visited the set (the film was shot in Sydney but is set in various US locales) so Redford and Blanchett had direct access to their primary sources. It shows.
Vanderbilt – who wrote Zodiac, which is all anyone needs to be able to say about themselves – explores so many major themes in his uncompromising screenplay that your head is abuzz as the credits roll. This is a dense, very intelligent film for adults who aren’t afraid to think; tragically, I suspect that is why it’s being practically tossed out with the garbage rather than given the major (and indeed Awards-baiting) release it deserves. I haven’t seen Carol yet, but Blanchett should be on every Oscar-speculating list for her work here.
A huge roster of local (ie non-LA resident) Australian actors fill out the landscape of the film’s many supporting characters, while Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, Dermot Mulroney and, for some reason, the rather drab John Benjamin Hickey (in the film’s only non-essential role) all made the trip down under to grace this very fine, thought-provoking film. Highly recommended, and hurry if you want to see it at the cinema, because it smells like they’re planning to bury the Truth.