By: Akram Shaban
Cate Blanchett stars as Mary Mapes, producer of the CBS 60 minutes program hosted by Dan Rather (Robert Redford), in Truth. The story takes place during the Killian documents scandal when allegations arose that George Bush Jr went AWOL during the Vietnam War to dodge the draft. The controversy gets out of hand causing the resignation of Dan Rather as anchor of CBS news, and the dismissal of Mapes as producer. The film is based on the book by Mapes titled Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.
There are multiple messages the film tries to get across. One could be that people in positions of power can get away with certain things pretty easily. Another is that people can take advantage of the chaos that ensues after the outcry of a loud minority on the internet, with the help of other media outlets, to distract from the main story. The main theme, I would say, is that bullies come in all forms, and can be highly destructive.
I think that the film-makers wanted to elicit from their audience opinions about power imbalance and accountability, and maybe even sensationalism. Clearly the other news agencies depicted in the movie were guilty of sensationalist behavior. Perhaps the writers and directors and actors wanted to simply tell a true story about a brilliant journalist who had to struggle very hard to combat the gravity of hyped up nonsense. It was an insult to Mapes’ professionalism to have to deal with lame bloggers who weren’t accountable to anything (assuming this is even true). Maybe that’s the movie’s biggest flaw. I don’t know what it wanted me to believe. I’m not going to think that Mapes and Rather were innocent just because Quaid whispered a cliché monologue about why they’re so compatible with each other (the plane scene).
An original draft of this review had me ranting about the political landscape of 2005. I (sort of?) learned about an important part of American media history. But the focus of the film kept changing. Some themes would come and go while others would resurface in little intervals (three to be exact). For example, the movie started out strong, with high hopes about evidence of the scandal being strong and hard hitting. Then quickly the plot takes a 90-degree turn, and now we’re watching Mapes struggling to resolve one measly discrepancy that’s grabbing all the media attention. After that disaster subsides, we begin watching a movie about a corporate investigation into false journalism. The storytelling was incoherent, finding myself with unanswered questions as the next big event came.
Most of my questions regarded the documents. The technical military jargon in the dialogue was difficult to follow, adding to the confusion. I found myself repeatedly asking: “who’s that guy? Why is he mentioned all of the sudden? John Kerry was a thing back then?” That last question speaks to my ignorance, but still, the dialogue was clunky.
If you watch the film conscious of the underlying theme, it’ll be less painful. The theme whose undertones influences all of Mapes’ actions is her relationship with her abusive father. She admits at one point that he’s the reason she needs to stand up to bullies. And in each of the three stages described above, that is precisely her motivation. First, she “asks questions” about a possibly incriminating aspect of Bush Jr’s military history. But what happens? The bully strikes her down. She fights back by proving that the stupid discrepancy wasn’t a problem after all. All is good, except now everyone forgot what the story was about. The bully returns with an investigation into her conduct. She didn’t do anything inherently wrong (she makes some mistakes though), but she’s treated with a disproportionate level of scrutiny. Meanwhile, a man who possibly went AWOL during wartime is winning a presidential election.
When you go to watch the movie, perceive it as a series of acts, like in a play. Act one, the scandal gets out. Act two, the haters launch their attack. Act three, the investigation. On a road which begins with covering the news, and ends with covering your butt, one thing holds; bullies suck.
I’m not watching it again, C grade