TIFF 2015 Review | ‘Truth’ is Stinkier Than Fiction

As you walk out of the theater showing Truth, you might be inclined to think that you have just witnessed an important drama about important things full of important performances. That, if anything, is the genius of Truth: James Vanderbilt’s film features strong actors delivering impassioned speeches and it almost convinces us that the film itself holds up to the elevated standard of quality that its own protagonists symbolize.

Not that it’s terrible, of course. Vanderbilt’s drama – which tells the story the 60 Minutes exposé about George W. Bush’s history in the National Guard, which became a hot button talking point during the 2004 presidential election – is competently produced and acted. Cate Blanchett is certainly excellent as Mary Mapes, the producer whose practices would be questioned as holes in the news story came to light. But Truth relies so heavily on the significance of its source material that it never seems to push any further and present the story with a matching level of gravitas.

An example of shorthand: Robert Redford plays legendary CBS anchorman Dan Rather, and his own personal history as an American icon should, in theory, have made it easier to accept him in the role. Instead, Redford gives a performance that’s nearly indistinguishable from Redford’s own public appearances, right down to the strange fact that for half of the film – and only half the film – they didn’t even seem to have dyed his hair. Although it can be frustrating when an actor overtly impersonates a real person, it’s altogether more annoying when the actor doesn’t even go through the motions of looking a little bit like them. 

James Vanderbilt Truth Cast

Vanderbilt films Truth with a workmanlike eye, capturing the day-to-day elements of working the news but rarely, if ever, selling them to the audience. The overall look of Truth is, and this could also describe movie as a whole, not unlike a 1990s TV movie: direct and uncomplicated, and unsullied by pesky ambition. The movie relies on its actors, particularly Blanchett (who is magnetic as usual), to push a very simple plot over the top and into excellence. But most of its cast members are given very few, if any opportunities with which to pull this feat off, and many of those moments fall flat. Topher Grace, as an idealistic younger reporter, gets to unload a manic screed that will play great in the trailers but is immediately shut down, in the movie itself, as overblown and childish and ultimately a waste of time.

The downfall of Dan Rather, who was forced to retire shortly after the 60 Minutes report being dramatized in Truth, was a sad conclusion to a mighty career. The ongoing saga of dignified reporters struggling against an increasingly commercialized news industry won’t stop being important anytime soon. So there will be more films like Truth, maybe even about the exact same topic, and they will hopefully be produced with even greater skill. Truth is respectful but not particularly good, and that’s the truth.

Images via Sony Pictures Classics

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.

 

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