An unrealistic and over the top portrayal of a real life story, only to be redeemed by the leading actors
James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut Truth, is a docudrama which follows the 2004 ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ story about President George W. Bush’s military service, which saw him receive favoured treatment to get him into the Texas Air National Guard. As well as avoiding the Vietnam War, the allegations highlighted his failure to meet minimal training performance requirements, as well as his subsequent absence from the National Guard following his transfer. The story was exposed by CBS producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and national news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford).
The narrative focus shifts from the original Bush news story, to the investigation that begins as a result of claims of the Killian documents being forgeries, and the 60 Minute Team find themselves with their careers at stake. With journalism film Spotlight having just won Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards, it is difficult to not compare the two films, and Spotlight certainly comes out on top. The underlying message of journalism films is usually the same: that we must ask questions and that the truth should be exposed. However where Truth falls short in delivering this message successfully is in the far too preachy nature of the film.
Throughout the film there are several speech-like monologues which emphasise the importance of their work and the principles upon which they exposed this story. Inevitably this creates a lack of authenticity, as the conversations simply do not feel real. It is as if the screenplay has been written for an audience that is incapable of following the most basic narrative. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a parody of a journalism film at times. With James Vanderbilt’s previous screenplay work including The Amazing Spider-Man films, perhaps his style is just too over the top for Truth.
In addition, there is far too much jumping between scenes, creating a scattered and messy feeling. There is not enough build up and suspense in key scenes, which means that when something important does happen, the audience isn’t attached to or able to identify with the cause. Ultimately, a film that doesn’t make you feel something can never really be a ‘great’ film. In an attempt to make up for this lack of emotion, an overly dramatic score is present throughout, which sounds like it should belong in a superhero movie. The key flaw in Truth is that it lacks any subtly, so when the score becomes its loudest and most dramatic, it is as if the audience is being told when something important is happening. The score does not successfully enhance the film, but only serves to make Truth feel even more of a caricature of what it is trying to present.
The film was somewhat saved however, by the well selected and high-quality leading actors. Cate Blanchett successfully embodies the qualities of a strong female character, and her evident passion in the role of Mary Mapes undoubtedly gives the film more credibility. In both her look and her personality, Blanchett as Mapes is able to portray passion, enthusiasm and determination within her job and is certainly one of the films greatest merits. In the same way, Robert Redford is well suited to the role of news anchor Dan Rather, and his on screen interaction with Blanchett feels more authentic than most of the other actors’ performances.
Although Truth did deliver some valuable and relevant messages regarding journalism, the manner in which it was done was far too over the top, which meant the importance of these ideas were lost in the poor dialogue and unrealistic delivery. The content of the film was interesting and it certainly made me want to know more, but unfortunately Truth failed to deliver a worthy representation of the true story.
Truth (2015), directed by James Vanderbilt, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures. Certificate 15.