|'A fundamentally flawed docudrama, with those flaws regularly feeling as though they stem from the film's source material'.|
From one perspective, it feels unfortunate for those involved in making Truth that their film has been released in the same year as Spotlight, perhaps the best journalistic film of a generation. Whilst UK audiences received Tom McCarthy's superior film over a month before James Vanderbilt's, the two were released one week after another in the US, with Truth appearing first before becoming overshadowed by this year's Best Picture Oscar winner. There's a sense that, had Vanderbilt's film been allowed a buffer of even a few months to distance itself from McCarthy's, it may have fared at least marginally better than the tepid response it has garnered from many.
That said, there's no denying that Truth is a fundamentally flawed docudrama, with those flaws regularly feeling as though they stem from the film's source material. Vanderbilt's screenplay is based on the memoir of journalist and TV producer Mary Mapes, played in the film by Cate Blanchett, whose career ended following the airing on CBS of a report criticising the military record of George W. Bush only a few months before the 2004 presidential election. The writer and director rarely if ever questions Mapes' version of events which, unsurprisingly, paint both her and her team almost entirely as victims both of circumstance and of the institutional power wielded by a 21st Century mass media corporation.
Whilst both appear true to at least some extent, what's also true is that Mapes and her team undeniably made some crucial errors in professional judgement, a fact which Vanderbilt feels far less interested in to his film's detriment. There's an argument to be made that, if you wanted to see an unbiased and purely factual account of the film's events, then a dramatised retelling is the wrong film to watch. But, had Vanderbilt achieved greater balance between the two contrasting viewpoints, it's very likely Truth would have ended up more robust as a whole.
Despite this core issue, along with a shakily scripted opening act which struggles to make the controversy as interesting as it should be, Vanderbilt's chosen subject matter is inherently interesting (especially, perhaps, for those outside the US to whom the events will likely be unfamiliar) and his film steadily gets better and better during the closing two thirds. Blanchett is reliably strong, as is Robert Redford as news anchor Dan Rather, largely overcoming Vanderbilt's unsubtle hero worshipping with a measured and understated performance. Secondary roles filled by the likes of Dennis Quaid, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood make sure Truth's supporting cast deliver consistent quality. The remaining three members of Mapes' team lack definition, however, with Lucy Scott (Elizabeth Moss) in particular regularly used only to facilitate exposition through asking questions before disappearing for much of the second hour.
By the final act showdown between Mapes and the most intimidating pack of lawyers seen in a film in some time, Vanderbilt will have drawn you into the story which by this point finally chooses to settle on Mapes' personal battle for her integrity and her career. That doesn't change the fact, however, that the historical events related in the film hold prime cinematic potential into which Vanderbilt ultimately fails to satisfyingly tap.