The 60 Minutes scandal of 2004, dubbed “Rathergate,” is now a motion picture, ironically titled Truth. The film depicts how Rather and his team investigated and reported a story on President George W. Bush’s military record, which had sketchy source material and a few tell-tale flaws (the superscript button on our keyboards suddenly had their day in the sun). The controversy resulted in some of those involved being fired, though “Rathergate” wound up more a shakedown on Rather himself than everything wrong with the story.
Considering how the film is blatantly in the corner of Rather and his team, a more fitting title would have been Bias. I mean that as a criticism as well as an indication of how the film plays, though I’m not condemning the film. In fact, while it takes time to get cooking, it offers some of the strongest movie moments of any late 2015 release. Truth may be more “infotainment” than worthy of a 60 Minutes profile but it asks the right questions, explores what professional integrity and news reporting should be and offers an editorial that may be slanted but isn’t entirely off base.
Truth stars Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, the producer of 60 Minutes. Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss play the investigators working for Mapes. This is truly the Hollywood version of this story and plays like a Rather-approved defense of himself and those involved.
James Vanderbilt, who wrote the extraordinary screenplay for David Fincher’s Zodiac, authored this as well and makes his directorial debut. His film lacks style but its full of snap, a handful of great scenes and is always entertaining.
Redford gives, at best, a mild impersonation of Rather, allowing only a slight vocal inflection and a clunky hairdo to invoke the man. Instead, his movie star charisma conveys the warmth and luster of a well liked living legend.
Blanchett, one of the best actresses working today, has portrayed driven, plucky and talented women before but her take on Mapes is standout. Blanchett is sometimes over the top but that’s likely the fault of the screenplay, which is always engaging but never subtle. Mapes comes across as driven, frustrating, talented and flawed, which is both a rich opportunity for Blanchett to paint her varying shades and for some needed contrast to how the movie portrays Rather like the Yoda of CBS.
Grace has a scene, late in the film, where his character makes a spectacle of himself and accuses CBS of hypocrisy. It’s the best work he’s done on film. Other great moments belong to Bruce Greenwood, playing the head of CBS, and Dermot Mulroney, as Mapes professional opponent who interrogates her late in the film. Dennis Quaid and Stacey Keach provide colorful character turns, though Elisabeth Moss’ role gets shuffled to the background and mostly forgotten (it seems as though she were edited out of the film’s second hour).
For all the obvious narrative favoritism, the biggest problem isn’t that the film picks sides, but the music that accompanies it. Composer Brian Tyler, who mostly writes film scores for CGI-heavy action and comic book movies, is absolutely the wrong person to have provided music for this film. The music is spell-everything-out and often odds with what the scene is about.
Broadcast News and the vastly underrated Shattered Glass are the still the best of recent films depicting how reporters fall prey to personal opinion and shaping “a great story” in the name of professional journalism.
Truth is biased in a way that is sometimes refreshing (it’s not afraid of naming names and pointing fingers), though it does show the flaws and glaring journalistic mistakes made. Yet, if you think this is the kind of movie that portrays Rather as a twinkly eyed symbol of all that is profound about journalism, you’d be right.