‘How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?’ read the front page of the Daily Mirror on the morning after George W. Bush was re-elected for a second term as US president in ’04, echoing the sentiments of citizens from so many countries across the globe. For Bush was a man with a past that even the most committed optimist would call questionable, and who had in his first term as Leader of the Free World, led his country into not one, but two wars. His track record spoke for itself… he wasn’t the man for the job!
Truth, screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s determined directorial debut, offers a fairly conclusive answer to the Mirror’s question… The year is 2004, and as the election looms, CBS News producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and veteran anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) come into the possession of documents, apparently written by Bush’s former commanding officer Colonel Killian, which suggest the President received preferential treatment to avoid the Vietnam draft. Aware of the impact such an explosive story could have come polling day, Mapes and her team run the story as a report on their topical news show 60 Minutes. It isn’t long, however, before conservative supporters start to cry foul, and Mapes finds herself faced with a firestorm.Those hoping that Vanderbilt would be framing the same seething style that pulsed through the veins of his Zodiac script against a political landscape are likely to find themselves disappointed. Though there are shades of such weighty, political think pieces like All the President’s Men, Truth is more of a plucky, Oscar-baited, prestige picture, with acting so big it could block out the sun, and just enough intellectual subtext included for critics to chew over.
It’s also an absolute blast, the cinematic equivalent of a tasty American cheeseburger; a juicy account of an irrefutably fascinating story that fizzes with energy, and is directed with delicious zeal by Vanderbilt. His film oozes with gluttonous amounts of rich Hollywood cheese – grand speeches, slow-mo. air punching, and a sweeping score so patriotic it practically has the power to conjure subliminal images of stars and stripes. A terrific, old-fashioned, Tinseltown showpiece where even the downbeat ending is played as a victory, and the sight of Dennis Quaid incessantly grinning like a Cheshire cat doesn’t ever strike you as unnatural.Anchoring it all is yet another astonishing performance by Cate Blanchett. Mapes is a strong and intelligent female, one who’s determined to do what’s right, and Blanchett brilliantly embodies this bold passion. While Robert Redford’s Dan Rather goes around imparting advice to all who listen – the veteran actor relying on his iconic screen persona – and the rest of the supporting cast appear to be on their knees begging the Academy for a Support Actor nomination (Dermot Mulroney, we’re looking at you), it’s Blanchett’s command that carries the film.
Vanderbilt makes no effort to try and hide his film’s political leanings. This is very much a one-sided account of the controversy surrounding the The Killian Documents, told from Mapes’ point of view – indeed, Vanderbilt adapted the script from her book ‘Truth and Duty’. There’s boisterous Bush-bashing, snide remarks on the power of privilege, and an imposing group of corporate bigwigs chasing their own agenda.
The bleak conclusion drawn is that in the world of politics and lobbying, honesty has no place. The American public were not dumb enough to ignore Mapes; they were manipulated in to never even considering the truth.