Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Reporters are taught to dig for the truth of a story at all costs. Generally speaking, you are close to uncovering it if pressure and heat are increasing. However, you’re also taught to fact check your sources before any story goes to print – despite the crunch of a deadline. In writer-director James Vanderbilt’s TRUTH, based on Mary Mapes’ account of the now-legendary 60 MINUTES debacle involving respected newsman Dan Rather, audiences are asked to make up their own minds about the journalistic integrity of the situation. The trouble is, in recounting Mapes’ case, it winds up throwing her back under the bus.
September 9, 2004 is a date which will live in infamy in the minds of newshounds. It’s the day CBS News went to air with a highly controversial story about then-President George W. Bush’s military record. The news team includes segment producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett, in her most defiant of performances), military consultant Lt. Col. Roger Charles (Dennis “hubba hubba” Quaid), freelancer/ former gossip hound Mike Scott (Topher Grace), tireless researcher/ journalism professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss), and anchor Rather (Robert Redford). This group puts together what they thought was an air-tight piece, with documents pointing to Dubya never showing up for National Guard duty. Trouble arises almost immediately after air because, essentially, Mapes ran the story based on the “truthiness” of her source’s information – a source (played magnificently by Stacy Keach) that would later recant and change his story. The Scooby gang is then raked across the coals by other news channels and bloggers, and the rest is – as they say – history.
No matter how engrossing and entertaining this film is (and it really is both), ultimately this is a Dan Rather ego-stroke. From Brian Tyler’s patriotic score that swells whenever Rather enters frame, to the way DP Mandy Walker angelically lights Rather, to his rousing send off on his final show at CBS (replete with standing ovations and cheers), it glad-hands and spins the truth in order to rescue Rather’s tarnished rep. Maybe Mapes’ novel is like this as well, but the film is at war with itself, attempting to remain neutral and ambiguous when a verdict really should be rendered. Then there’s the troublesome depiction of her character. “Daddy issues” doesn’t begin to cover the pothole-riddled terrain Vanderbilt lays out. There’s even a scene on an airplane between Scott and Charles that clunkily spells this out, as if viewers hadn’t already arrived at this psychological assessment of Mapes. We had.
This doesn’t just reek of Oscar bait at its most desperate, it also re-writes history – and shockingly, not in favor of the gutsy heroine who chose to use her mighty voice to ask the correct questions of the leader of the free world. 90% of this may be the truth as it happened. However, as the film teaches us, if it’s not the full truth of the matter, the story shouldn’t be worth telling.
TRUTH opens nationwide on October 30.