DIR/WRI: James Vanderbilt • PRO: Brad Fischer, Brett Ratner, William Sherak, Andrew Spaulding, James Vanderbilt • DOP: Mandy Walker • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce • MUS: Brian Tyler • DES: Fiona Crombie • CAST: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid
While Cate Blanchett is currently riding high on the success of her Oscar-nominated performance in Todd Haynes’s female/lesbian-centric film Carol, unfortunate scheduling has pulled focus away from yet another outstandingly rich Blanchett performance in Truth, the directorial debut from screenwriter James Vanderbilt. Released just three weeks in the US before the diversity-friendly, melancholic melodrama Carol and almost simultaneously with Tom McCarthy’s gripping newsroom thriller Spotlight, the onus is on the celebrated screenwriter’s debut to amplify the narrative of investigation into the darker aspects of American culture and its power structure, forcefully probed by such critically acclaimed heavyweights through sobering and absorbing critiques.
Based on CBS news producer Mary Mapes’ 2005 memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power, Blanchett plays the non-conforming journalist, who produced a report for the 60 Minutes II programme in 2004, which challenged Bush’s service record with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. Revelling in the glory of exposing the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse story (giving Bush a further axe to grind), Mapes and long-time news anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford) attempt to prove the president’s attendance record was more than shaky, owing to his family connections. Basing their investigations on leaked documents by an unreliable source, Mapes, Rather and a mutinous production team find themselves on the receiving end of political and corporate power, compromising their journalistic integrity as the authenticity of the documents comes under scrutiny.
While Haynes interrogates sexual diversity and challenges to the stability of the family by emotionally investing in a tangible love story between the two female characters and McCarthy exposes the Catholic Church’s large-scale culture of abuse with ethical humility by giving prominence to the victims rather than the crusading journalists, Vanderbilt’s Truth fails to grill the hegemonic construction of political, corporate and media corruption with any stinging, impactful conviction. Vanderbilt, rather, speeds through the chain of events that almost led to a presidential downfall and changed the face of modern journalism without the emotional or moral punch that reinforces Carol and Spotlight, devaluing the scale the CBS report had on the construction of the media and the manipulation of its integrity and values.
While Hayne’s exquisite craftsmanship is stamped all over Carol and his customary ironic overtones intensify his dismantling of 1950s socio-cultural structures, Vanderbilt’s impulsive, disjointed style, not only prevents an identification with characters and connection to events but draws attention to the director’s inexperience, whose failure to tease the hot subject matter into a carefully considered narrative, loses much of the moral and political significance of the story. Unlike Spotlight, the considerable repercussions of the story are sidelined to accentuate the journalists’ campaign without digging into the culture of corruption that led to the crusade and rather than merging both cause and effect into a sophisticated and damning cinematic critique of modern journalism and conservative power, Truth is hesitant and hurried, becoming more akin to a nondescript television movie. Vanderbilt’s style is at such odds with the narrative objective, that his investigations becoming more alienating than immersive and the zipping fashion with which the story unfolds creates an indifference to rather than engagement with events, making the overall story appear less significant than it was in actuality.
Supported solidly by Redford, Truth is rescued by another engrossing performance by Blanchett, who plays the lobbying producer with such compelling nuance, it is unfortunate the overall narrative and style cannot equal her efforts. Although the film is based on her book, Vanderbilt appears determined not to exploit Mapes’ position as an identifiable, female protagonist, in favour of a more rounded overview of all players involved. As such, when the crusaders mightily fall and Blanchett is put on the spotlight and breathtakingly shines, it is clear Vanderbilt missed a great opportunity by not intensifying Mapes’ perspective, which would have given the film that much needed subjective, emotional and feminist edge. Although most of the journalists involved ended their CBS careers in the aftermath, it was Mapes who was fired from the corporation, so such feminist overtones could have bolstered identification with Mapes’ position as a woman against unscrupulous corporate hegemony, but Vanderbilt seems at pains to avoid such political engagement.
Although the film shares a similar agenda to Carol and Spotlight in attempting to demolish the ideological agendas of conservative, hegemonic institutions, Vanderbilt’s attempts at interrogation simply do not get under the skin and fail to penetrate the cynical cycle of corruption and cover-ups, so palpably executed in Spotlight. While Rathers became the public scapegoat and thus a symbol of modern journalistic rectitude, it was Mapes who felt the full force of the corporate and political axe and Blanchett’s stunning performance was the unexploited golden ticket in Truth. The film has evidently suffered from a tentative, inexperienced director whose cautious probing of the seedier side of a culture of corporate corruption, leaves a feeling of being outside events rather than being complicit in the crusade. Despite some fantastic separate elements, such as performances and production values, when all pulled together, the film fails to add up to a thrilling, critical exposé on the whole and Cate Blanchett will possibly not get the appreciation for her performance that she deserves.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Truth is released 4th March 2016