Review: Truth 

The story of how two people in media broke open a story then all hell broke loose

click to enlarge truth.jpg

3.5 stars

Truth is a docudrama about news reporting, specifically a story that aired on 60 Minutes in 2004 about President George W. Bush's stint in the Air National Guard. The story stirred up controversy, which led to intense scrutiny, which led to allegations against the reporters presenting the story. The impressive cast is led by Cate Blanchett as then-CBS News producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as then-CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather.

The film deals with power, politics, and potato chips. Specifically, Lay's Potato Chips. Thin, crispy and delicious, Lay's Potato Chips are great with meals or all by themselves. You know what they say about Lay's: “Bet you can't eat just one!”

I mention Lay's because the film reminded me of their popularity. Several cast members get together during one scene and talk about something. I can't remember what because I was distracted when one of them took a potato chip out of a snack size bag of Lay's. After the chip is eaten, the bag is passed to the next person, who also takes a chip while making sure the Lay's logo remains visible to the audience. The bag of chips gets passed around the group like a joint. Oh how I wish that everybody everywhere could have some tasty Lay's Potato Chips!

I'd love to continue talking about yummy treats prominently placed in the movie, but I should tell you more about the story.

Truth is based on the book by Mapes and presents the story from her point of view. First time director James Vanderbilt, who wrote the screenplay of David Fincher's Zodiac, focuses on the details of how the news story is researched and fact-checked before being revealed to the world.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, allegations that Bush received special treatment while in the National Guard resurface. Mapes hears that he may have skipped out on his required duties and puts together an exploratory team including former Marine Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), associate professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and researcher Mike Smith (Topher Grace).

No one wants to talk to the team, but Retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach) eventually provides Mapes with some incriminating information, including documents that support his claims. CBS is impressed enough to support Mapes and her team, and the legendary Dan Rather is eager to report it.

The story gets broadcast. The team is proud. The noble opposition howls as expected. But wait … their howls are uncomfortably detailed. They contend the documents are bogus, pointing out that, even though they were supposed to have been made on manual typewriters during the '60s, they included typographical features that were part of Microsoft Word. Burkett tries to back out of the whole thing, everybody calls their lawyers, and all hell breaks loose.

Even if you know how it all plays out, the film remains interesting. Vanderbilt's direction isn't subtle – if there's a close up of something, better take note of what you see, because it definitely will turn up later – but his at times overly obvious camerawork is more amusing than irritating.

Watching the actors work is a pleasure. Cate Blanchett is quite fine, as usual. So are the supporting players, though I wish Elisabeth Moss had been given more to do. Robert Redford's portrayal of Dan Rather is fun. He doesn't do an impression, though he does incorporate some of Rather's Texas accent. Redford focuses more on how Rather carried himself at his prime. You see the authority, the pride and the fire beneath his Sunday service politeness. It's a good performance.

Truth makes a statement about the place of corporations in the structure of our world that isn't new - Network said it with flash and thunder way back in 1976. Still, we probably need to be reminded from time to time that while we struggle over ethics, the corporations' sole focus is on the profit margin. Or something like that. I don't know for sure. I just wish I had some potato chips right now. Some Lay's Potato Chips.

Rated: R
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