Entertainment

‘Truth’: No answers, but top-notch performances

What It’s About

A probing look at the press, politics, power and corporate ownership of media conglomerates raises uncomfortable questions and provides no pat answers in “Truth,” a piercing drama marked by razor-sharp performances.

During the 2004 presidential election campaign, questions were raised about the military service of both candidates during the Vietnam War, but it is a rushed report on “60 Minutes II,” doubting President George W. Bush’s record in the Texas National Guard, that became an embarrassing scandal for the CBS News division.

After the report aired on Sept. 8, claims that the documents CBS used were forgeries fueled widespread criticism and blame. The firestorm ruined professional credibility and toppled two highly respected news careers — anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett).

The movie, based on Mapes’ 2005 memoir, “Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and the Privilege of Power,” is a thoughtful examination of journalism practices and politics as business as usual. Everyone is held accountable, not just along partisan lines.

Writer-director James Vanderbilt, who wrote the underrated “Zodiac,” concentrates on the subject matter, documenting the facts and carefully crafting a compelling work. Nevertheless, opinions aren’t likely to change about any perceived bias.

Performances

We get to know the people who worked on the controversial piece as well as the suits demanding heads to roll.

As a dedicated newswoman who thrived in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of network news, Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) is at the top of her game. She is ferocious as a tough professional whose vulnerability is revealed in her complicated personal life. And in the closing scene, the fiery speech she delivers before an investigative panel is a brilliant showcase. She has two Oscars already but will be nominated again for this dynamic portrayal.

Redford makes no attempt to look like Rather, but has the Texas-born anchorman’s folksy cadence down, and projects integrity and experience in what is a supporting role.

As part of Mapes’ team, Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”) shines as driven reporter Mike Smith, culminating in a passionate tirade to a perturbed boss. Dennis Quaid (“Frequency”) aces the part of a military adviser, Lt. Col Roger Charles, but Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) is under-utilized as journalism professor Lucy Scott.

Veteran character actor Stacy Keach has a strong turn as whistleblower Lt. Col. Bill Burkett.

What Works

The media landscape has changed so rapidly over the past decade that this look back is an interesting snapshot of the way it was. By now, the details might have been forgotten, but they burn bright here.

What Doesn’t Work

The third act needed to be tighter.

But the film’s storytelling is first-rate, matched by its top-notch cast. We see how mistakes have consequences, on all sides, that can reverberate for some time — and nobody wins.

3 1/2 stars out of 4

  • Director: James Vanderbilt
  • Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Stacy Keach, and Bruce Greenwood.
  • Rated: R for language and a brief nude photo
  • Length: 2:01
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