Truth (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A report marred by devastating mistakes

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They tried to report a truth, but then their minor mistakes ultimately eclipsed and muddled the main point of their report while resulting in considerable personal costs for everyone. Looking closely into the messy circumstance surrounding the flawed TV report on George W. Bush’s questionable military record, “Truth” gives us a bitter drama about the troubling trend of modern journalism which has only become worse since that, and that is why I often found its messages resonating although I was also distracted by its weak points to notice.

After the opening scene in which Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), the producer of CBS news program 60 Minutes Wednesday, visits a lawyer she is going to hire for her upcoming internal review panel, the movie goes back to 2004 April, which was one of her career highpoints. When the torture and prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison is reported by veteran anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) on her news program, this exposé further tarnishes the public image of the Bush administration which has already been pretty unpopular since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and it looks like Bush will not succeed in getting re-elected in the upcoming US presidential election.

Meanwhile, Mapes and her crew come across what can be another scoop of the year. While searching for any connection between an oil company found by Bush and the bin Laden family, they find a more interesting thing in Bush’s past. During the 1970s, Bush could have been drafted and then sent to Vietnam like many other young Americans, but he came to serve as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard instead, and it seems possible that he avoided going to Vietnam thanks to his father’s considerable political influence.

Via their thorough examination of Bush’s military record, they find several notable things to support this possibility. From the beginning, Bush did not have much previous experience or training for qualification, and he also had considerable difficulty in meeting minimal physical aptitude testing standards. Furthermore, he even went AWOL at some point, and this was somehow overlooked by his superiors.

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Because there is not yet any definite evidence to prove that Bush got preferential treatment in the military, they begin to search for potential proofs, and that is how they come to encounter a retired military guy named Bill Burkett (Stacey Keach). He has a copy of revealing personal memos written by Bush’s military commander, and these documents look authentic as far as Mapes and her crew can see.

Although some of their experts have reasonable doubts on the authenticity of the documents, Mapes decides to do the coverage on them while getting the full support from Rather. Especially after one source who previously rejected her crew’s phone call confirms that these documents are real, everything seems to work out fine as Mapes and her crew hurriedly prepare for their report during a very short period of time, and they feel elated to see it broadcast on September 8th, 2004.

But then the situation is suddenly changed because of what they unwisely overlooked during the process. After the documents are shown on TV, several right-wing websites start to claim that they are forgery, and there are indeed a few suspicious things about the documents. It later turns out that Burkett is not so honest about how he managed to obtain the documents, and that gives more troubles for Mapes and her crew.

The screenplay by the director James Vanderbilt, which is based on Mapes’ nonfiction book “Truth and Duty”, works best when the movie calmly observes how things get worse for Mapes and her crew. While it looks like they can get the circumstance under control at first, they only find themselves more cornered as the attention of media and public is more focused onto their blunder rather than the veracity of Bush’s military record. While the US presidential election day is approaching, their apparently flawed but mostly reasonable report is continued to be lambasted by media, and Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood), the president of CBS News, becomes more pressured to do something which will not be a good news for them at all.

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As Mapes goes through what is probably the worst crisis in her life and career, Cate Blanchett is deft in the edgy presentation of her character’s increasingly agitated state. Although Rather and her caring husband Mark (John Benjamin Hickey) stand by her during this very difficult period, Mapes still feels like going back to the painful past associated with her abusive father, and she certainly becomes lousy and depressed as watching the eventual result of the US presidential election in 2004 November. She keeps trying to fight against her unfair situation, but she knows well that she is already losing, and that frustrates her even more.

While Robert Redford is fine in his effortless performance which interacts well with Blanchett’s during their scenes, many of other notable supporting performers in the movie are unfortunately under-utilized. As Mapes’ main crew members, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Elizabeth Moss do not have many things to do with their colorless roles, and Grace gets an unenviable job of handling a blatantly preachy scene at one point. Stacy Keach gives a brief but impressive performance as an ailing man who should have been more straightforward about his supposedly valuable documents, and Noni Hazlehurst has her own small moment as Burkett’s concerned wife.

Compared to “Spotlight” (2015), another recent drama about real-life journalists pursuing truth, “Truth” is a minor work in comparison. I must tell you that the movie is not entirely satisfying due to its several missteps including the frequent overuse of dramatic score which is particularly obvious during the closing sequence, but it is worthwhile to watch to some degrees, and it feels relevant especially considering the current media frenzy surrounding the US presidential election of this year. It is not without flaws, but its messages are delivered mostly well at least.

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