"The truth will set you free". So says the Bible, but often you have to ask, "what really is the truth?" And, sometimes more importantly, how do you prove it? This last question, if not properly addressed, can lead to disaster.
A movie that was in the cinemas a few months ago, and is now just out on DVD, shows this dramatically.
The film is called "Truth" and is based on a true story. Mary Mapes was a news producer at CBS TV in the United States. Their long-time news anchor, a household name in his own right, was Dan Rather. In 2004, in the months just prior to the American presidential election of that year, allegations surfaced concerning the Republican candidate, then-President George Bush the Younger. Documents were produced allegedly showing that, in his much younger years, George Bush had received preferential treatment and had improperly performed his military duties in the Texas Air National Guard in which he was a pilot. Relying on these documents and a number of witnesses, the CBS show "60 Minutes" ran a story, fronted by Rather, to this effect. Given the hot-house atmosphere of an election campaign, the story came under fire: the authenticity of the documents was disputed, and a key witness admitted he lied. Mary Mapes, Dan Rather, and their team of investigative reporters, were subjected to an internal investigation by CBS. It was ultimately admitted the documents' authenticity could not be proven and the network withdrew the story. Mapes was fired, and several other members of the investigative team, including Rather himself, resigned. Not long afterwards, Rather sued CBS but the case was dismissed. He now works for another network.
Mapes (who, according to a note at the end of the film, has not worked in TV news since) wrote a book about her experiences, which forms the basis of this film. Directed by American first-timer James Vanderbilt, this movie is a crackling good account of the pitfalls and disasters that can happen when reporters don't do their research properly. At a fraction over two hours long, "Truth" is an engrossing story of triumph turning to tragedy.
An excellent cast rise to the occasion. As Mary Mapes, is Cate Blanchett. A superb actress, she portrays beautifully Mapes' transition from relentless, successful media executive to a woman whose career and reputation are shattered. Her performance reminded me of her role in "Blue Jasmine" where, again, she played a character descending into a morass of failure and defeat. Dan Rather is played by the now-venerable Robert Redford. He may be showing the years now, but Redford's acting chops are still pretty good. He might not look a lot like Dan, but he shows well the essence of someone at the top of their game who is about to be toppled. Elisabeth Moss (from "Mad Men"), Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keech, and Noni Hazlehurst, amongst others, give solid support – Hazlehurst's cameo, where she plays the coldly disgusted wife of a witness allegedly exploited and abandoned by CBS, is memorable.
Although an American film, the presence in it of several Australian actors gives the hint that much of the movie was actually shot in Australia.
As I have previously written, when I reviewed the movie "Spotlight", it is often hard to make something sexy and dramatic of the fact that investigative reporters spend most of their time in non-spectacular tasks, such as talking on the phone, meeting contacts, or just researching, when chasing down a story. All these activities don't necessarily make for riveting cinema, unless you have a good script, good actors, a good director, and a good editor. "Spotlight" had all these; so too does "Truth".
Internet gossip has it that the real-life CBS was not happy with this film, though they seem not to have taken any formal action against it. The movie has been spoken about as a timely exploration of the murky interface between a supposedly free media, big business, and big politics, as well as being an essay on media bias. So it is, but I also see it as a treatment of a more fundamental and less admirable human trait: when you are successful, everyone wants to be your friend. When you put a foot wrong and stumble, everyone is quick to tear you down and keep their distance. Success has a thousand parents, failure is an orphan.
"Spotlight" and "Truth" both came out in late 2015. Both are about investigative news reporters. Both are very good. Yet, it is a pity that the former has overshadowed the latter. The former deservedly won Oscars; the latter has tended to sink out of sight to some extent. Maybe it's because (ongoing) paedophilia in the church is regarded as more important and more resonant with moviegoers, than a long-ago US presidential election. If you are interested in the media, see both. One is a story of triumph, the other of disaster. You won't be disappointed in either.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/2