In truth, cate Blanchett isn’t out to win hearts–just minds. As Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer behind the calamitous 2004 investigation of George W. Bush’s nonservice in the Texas Air National Guard, she’s a raw nerve, an abrasive, driven journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal and thrives in the crucible of network news. When a source serves up a “juicy piece of brisket,” i.e., allegations about Bush’s draft-dodging/no-show Guard years, she knows it’s a story that can sway a presidential election.
Mapes is so convinced of her talent for accurate scoops that when deep flaws in her reporting spark a backlash–fueled by right-wing forces and CBS executives eager to wash their hands–she never sees it coming. It might have been written by the Greeks, but in this case it was Mapes herself, in a 2005 memoir, Truth and Duty, on which the film is based.
Debuting director James Vanderbilt (who wrote Zodiac) has a great sense of forward motion and wrings suspense from an idea-driven story. As the screenwriter, he also concocts some pretty inert dialogue. His Truth is all about polarities and dichotomies. It’s a thriller about the news, it’s a lament about the news. It examines the devotion of CBS reporters and the blithely ruthless way politicians divert attention from Bush and onto the integrity of questionable documents. It’s about the age-old editorial dilemma–the need to be right, and first.
Mapes worries only slightly more about her story than about not embarrassing Dan Rather (an understated but convincing Robert Redford). Yet Redford prompts a question: What would Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) have done with this material? The results would have had more gravitas. But back in 1976, so did the news biz.
This appears in the October 26, 2015 issue of TIME.
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