Truth, beauty and a picture of you is how the lyrics go, but it’s truth, duty and a picture of them that’s the crux of TRUTH, a story of journalism in the jingle jangle and mire of jingoism, conspiracy theories and the obsession of the scoop in the 24 hour news cycle.
Cate Blanchett plays veteran CBS News producer Mary Mapes who has painstakingly put together an investigative story, reported on-air by venerated newsman, Dan Rather, played with All The Presidents Men gravitas by Robert Redford.
The story purported to reveal new evidence proving that President George W. Bush had possibly shirked his duty during his service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974. The piece asserted that George W. Bush had not only exploited family connections and political privilege to avoid the Vietnam War by joining the Texas Air National Guard, but he had failed for many months to fulfil his most basic Guard obligation – showing up on base.
Writer director James Vanderbilt charts Mapes and her team of researchers dogged pursuit under tight deadline to pull together both on air eyewitness testimony and newly-disclosed documents to make their case. Not quite Watergate, but in the lead-up to the 2004 Bush v. Kerry presidential election, the “Bush-Guard” story could have had profound ramifications.
Days after the story broke, the documents supporting their investigation were denounced as forgeries, with suspect typefaces and fonts, and the 60 Minutes staff were accused of delinquent journalism.
TRUTH is based on Mary Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power so it is a subjective look at what played out. Cate Blanchett is blisteringly good as Mapes, diligent and ferocious in the pursuit of the truth but frustrated by the fragility of the veracity and motives of the whistle-blowers.
Shot in Sydney, TRUTH boasts an impressive supporting cast of Noni Hazelhurst, achingly good as the wife of a whistle-blower wary of the blowback the broadcast will have, Andrew McFarlane as legal counsel on behalf of Mapes and Rachel Blake, Philip Quast, Martin Sacks and Lewis Fitz-Gerald.
Overall, TRUTH is an entertaining film that asks big questions about the asking of questions and the way the answers are ratified or refuted. Mapes story was never disproved but all the president’s men applied the pressure of doubt to such an extent that her employers buckled and we are left to ponder where the truth lies.