Truth

TRUTH, drama, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - — Jonathan Richards

The movies are serv­ing up real peo­ple th­ese days, and serv­ing them up fast. David Fos­ter Wal­lace tours again with a bril­liant as­sist from Ja­son Segel. Steve Jobs is barely hor­i­zon­tal, and he’s back and big­ger than life, re­sus­ci­tated by di­rec­tor Danny Boyle and em­bod­ied by Michael Fass­ben­der. (It’s not even Jobs’ first re­turn: A cou­ple of years ago Ash­ton Kutcher had a go at him.)

Dan Rather isn’t even dead, and he’s get­ting his turn in Truth, an im­pres­sively ac­com­plished first fea­ture di­rected by James Van­der­bilt, the writer-pro­ducer who has pre­vi­ously given us an­other su­per­hero, The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man.

Rather, the CBS Evening News an­chor and 60 Min­utes cor­re­spon­dent who fell from grace over the story de­scribed in this film, is por­trayed here by Robert Red­ford. It must be a bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence for Rather, a lit­tle like Tom Sawyer at­tend­ing his own funeral. The first time we see Rather, an­other char­ac­ter in­tro­duces him: “I give you … Dan Rather!” And Red­ford comes on, and you think, “That’s not Dan Rather; that’s Robert Red­ford!” But give him time. Red­ford nails his sub­ject’s man­ner and man­ner­isms, and (de­spite his gin­ger hair in­stead of Rather’s gray) it’s not long be­fore you’re will­ingly sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief.

The scan­dal that top­pled Rather and his 60 Min­utes pro­ducer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) was over a story on Ge­orge W. Bush’s mil­i­tary ser­vice that aired in Septem­ber 2004, dur­ing the heated Bush-Kerry pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Mapes got hold of doc­u­ments and tes­ti­mony that ap­peared to show pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in get­ting Bush into the Texas Air Na­tional Guard dur­ing the Viet­nam War and his sub­se­quent unau­tho­rized ab­sences from duty. The doc­u­ments were later chal­lenged as forg­eries, and the au­then­ti­ca­tion process on which Mapes and her team re­lied was called into se­ri­ous ques­tion. A firestorm of crit­i­cism started on the con­ser­va­tive bl­o­go­sphere and quickly spread into the main­stream me­dia. In the sub­se­quent fall­out, CBS fired Mapes and sev­eral co-work­ers, and Rather was forced into an abrupt retirement.

The film, which is based on Mapes’ 2005 mem­oir, Truth and Duty: The Press, the Pres­i­dent, and the Priv­i­lege of Power, uses a News­room-style in­side-jour­nal­ism in­ten­sity to trace the anatomy of this dis­as­ter. The movie doesn’t try to dis­guise the en­thu­si­asm that Mapes and her team bring to the Bush story. Ru­mors about the pres­i­dent’s ser­vice had been cir­cu­lat­ing for sev­eral years, and when a former Texas Na­tional Guard of­fi­cer, Lt. Col. Bill Bur­kett (Stacy Keach), con­tacts 60 Min­utes with mil­i­tary per­for­mance records that ap­pear to show frus­tra­tion with Bush by his former (now de­ceased) com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, Mapes pounces. She vets the ma­te­rial with hand­writ­ing ex­perts and cor­rob­o­rat­ing wit­nesses. But pres­sure to get the story on the air quickly (60 Min­utes was fac­ing pre­emp­tions by Billy Gra­ham and Dr. Phil spe­cials) leads to some lapses in jour­nal­is­tic judg­ment. Mapes is in­clined to put more weight on the an­swers she wants to hear and to sweep away the oth­ers.

Blanchett is noth­ing less than bril­liant in her por­trayal of Mapes as a driven, ded­i­cated, high-strung pro­fes­sional who may have her own opin­ions but is mo­ti­vated above all by a com­mit­ment to jour­nal­is­tic truth. The movie sketches in a lit­tle fam­ily his­tory that sug­gests she was be­lit­tled and abused by her fa­ther, which led her to a warm fa­ther-daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship with Rather. A scene in which she tear­fully begs her fa­ther to stop pil­lo­ry­ing her in the press is one of the movie’s more un­for­tu­nate mo­ments. There are a few flights of speechi­fy­ing, but Blanchett is equal to the task. And the cli­max of the movie shows Mapes fac­ing an in­ves­tiga­tive panel as­sem­bled by CBS that pro­duces a star­tling echo of the re­cent Hil­lary Clin­ton Beng­hazi hear­ings.

A sub­text of this solidly crafted movie is a la­ment for the demise of tele­vi­sion news as jour­nal­ism in­de­pen­dent of its cor­po­rate masters and a bot­tom-line agenda. As to the rest of it, re­ac­tions to Truth are go­ing to break down along pre­dictably ide­o­log­i­cal lines. CBS is re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge or run the movie’s ads. Con­ser­va­tive crit­ics are pil­lo­ry­ing it and are scathing in their put-downs of Mapes’ jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity. Lib­eral com­men­ta­tors have been gen­er­ally pos­i­tive about the movie and more gen­er­ous in giv­ing a glass-half-full break to her de­fense of the chal­lenged doc­u­ments. It is telling that the un­der­ly­ing is­sue of the 60 Min­utes story, the Bush fa­voritism and his un­ex­cused ab­sences from duty, have gen­er­ally been ab­sent from the dis­cus­sion, and lit­tle ev­i­dence has been ad­vanced to put them to rest.

Rather him­self stands by the movie. “This is the best film I’ve seen on the big screen that takes you in­side the craft of jour­nal­ism, and demon­strates how it works, as op­posed to how peo­ple feel jour­nal­ism works,” he said re­cently. “We re­ported a true story. And there has never been any doubt the story was true.”

Man in the mir­ror: Cate Blanchett and Robert Red­ford

Black-tie muck­rak­ing: Robert Red­ford, Cate Blanchett, and Bruce Green­wood

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