Films about journalism are seldom ever about a positive moment in history. Most are about some scandal that shook the journalism world in some way. These films about scandal, are usually about just that, and nothing more. They’re negative views as they should be. So, when you get a film that looks at more than just the ugliness, you’re bound to find a film that does so much more than entertain.
The Sony Pictures Classics Film “Truth”, is an incredibly compelling film that goes above and beyond to make a case on an issue that shouldn’t have been one.
This biographical drama stars Cate Blanchett (upcoming “Carol”, “Cinderella (2015)”), Robert Redford (“A Walk in the Woods”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Topher Grace (“Drunk History”, “American Ultra”), Dennis Quaid (upcoming series “The Art of More”, “Inside Amy Schumer”), Elisabeth Moss (“Meadowland”, “Queen of Earth”), Bruce Greenwood (“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”, “Mad Men”), David Lyons (“Revolution”, “Penance (Short 2014)”), John Benjamin Hickey (“Manhattan”, “Difficult People”), Dermot Mulroney (“Insidious: Chapter 3”, “Extant”), and Stacy Keach (“NCIS: New Orleans”, “Hot in Cleveland”).
The was written and directed by James Vanderbilt (“White House Down”, “The Amazing Spider-Man). It is based on the memoir “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power” by Mary Mapes.
This film surprised me. It is, surprisingly and gratefully, the third film I’ve seen in theaters (in a row), that’s had me walking away not simply entertained and amazed at the work of the actors. No, this film, like “Sicario” and “Steve Jobs”, had me thinking, not just during the film, but after the credits started rolling. I was just thinking over and over on what I’d witnessed. In so many ways, it’s because of this that I find that this film and its subjects, are even more important than before. There’s still something to be learned from this chapter in history and journalism at large. I dare say too, that, in part, it’s this exact reason why it’s taken me an additional four days, since I’ve seen the film, to write about it. It’s also why this piece will be quite long.
“They do not get to smack us just for asking the fucking question.” – Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes
When it comes to characters that Blanchett plays, there’s really no shortage of brilliance. Even if you don’t walk away loving the whole film, you can be certain she’ll have brought a unique character to life. This film is no exception, and is now definitely one of my favorite roles she’s ever taken on. Well, of the ones I’ve seen.
Playing Mary Mapes, a woman not many people knew about at the time of this scandal, and probably even now to some extent, Blanchett has a lot of work on her plate. This role, which I noticed the first time I saw the trailer, is a very complex one as well as very nuanced. Blanchett’s Mapes is the standout. One thing people need to keep in mind is that this film is adapted from Mapes’ memoir. So, while Rather was the public figure that fell, he wasn’t the only person involved and ruined by this. Blanchett’s character is overall passionate about what she does. Every bit of work she does, even when it’s not for the story that ultimately dooms her, is important and placed above all else. Important for this character, and not just because it’s fact, is that she’s a wife and mother. Her family life is just as important. So, getting to see this person balancing and loving both (the job maybe a bit more), is kind of inspiring. I must say I was a bit inspired by who this character is and who the real Mapes probably was.
I’m currently reading her memoir, as I’m that type of person, and I’m loving it. The thing that gets me the most and aides in being inspired by her, is just how she approached her job. Her beliefs are crucial. They, of course, show her character. This film, I feel, did exactly that as well. We can see why it is she approached the Bush Guard story the way she did, along with many other stories. Blanchett not only showcases her commitment to a character and talent, but also why some people get into journalism and how they approach their work. Some have more concern for it than others.
Redford is a legend. An icon. He’s, as has been said so many times in interviews (some I saw before and after I saw the film), an icon playing an icon. This is exactly right. The thing about Redford’s Rather is he’s supposed to represent a person and showcase a very specific relationship. Like Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs, Redford looks nothing like the actual person he’s portraying. He’s got some features and aspects of the real Rather, that might remind you of him, but it’s not even close to a mirror image. Like in “Steve Jobs”, this is far more than okay. The story, with regards to Redford specifically, is about his character’s way of working with people. What were those relationships like? What was his overall approach to the work he did and loved? I definitely feel that this is captured completely.
We get a pretty clear picture of who Rather was as a journalist and anchor. What brings this film together even more, aren’t Blanchett’s and Redford’s characters and the other characters, it’s the general way they interact with each other. The relationship between Blanchett and Redford is crucial to this film working at all. They trust each other completely. If they didn’t, their entire working relationship would probably not work, and if it did, it wouldn’t be the same. I wonder what kinds of stories we’d really have gotten if they weren’t bonded in this way. Also, because of the way these two people are portrayed, you can see how much this pains them, as all they were trying to do was tell the truth to the American public.
I hate to lump everyone else together, but I feel it’s best. Certainly quicker. The rest of the supporting players, like Blanchett and Redford, are quite fascinating and likable, or in some cases, unlikable. They play their parts. There’s the rest of the “60 Minutes” team, Grace, Moss, and Quaid, and each one is perfectly cast. They’re each there to help put together a juicy news story and do so with their own care and passion. And, as one would hope, you learn quite a bit about these people too. Maybe nothing overly personal, but enough that you can see what drives them and why you should care.The bad part is, it means there’s more people to feel sorry for when the shit hits the fan. The adversarial characters are a bit more than just that. They represent the time period and what it meant to be a working journalist. But even while you’re hating the choices being made by, say Lyons character, you understand where it comes from. That and you get yet another very good performance. I seriously was amazed by the talent in this film.
“And they hope to God the truth gets lost in the scrum.” – Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes
This film, again like “Steve Jobs”, does something most films don’t. It presents a lot of information and insight into the people and the situation they’re facing, but never specifically tells you what to think or how. It’s all presented in a way that lets you decide for yourself on what the truth really is. What this film does, is more like that of a lawyer. Prosecutor or defense attorney. They both have to make a case with the evidence. This on top of all the performances, makes this a really good and enjoyable film. It’s a film that’ll stand out for some time.
It also provides another layer to this being a film about journalism. You, of course, go in knowing what it’s about, but knowing and experiencing aren’t the same thing. Yes, it’s a retelling, so there’s a specific timeline that has to be adhered to. It is, in what I’m assuming is a faithful manner. The ideas that are inherent in journalism, are ever present and they’re quite powerfully represented. So many times through out, when a tip came in or some piece of information, the team treated it carefully and looked to make sure it was accurate. They got sources to speak on record, as they’re supposed to, and confirm bits of information. All done the way normal journalism works. Each step, which I was surprised by, was exciting. I got excited seeing them be able to confirm a bit of information. You also witnessed some slight pushback at times, which can happen when a source is uneasy about speaking up. Watching these actors show what it must have been like to get the story ready was pretty much (as of this writing), enough to convince me that the final story and basis for digging for information, was correct.
Sadly, in the end, all people focused on was information that was somewhat beside the point. I guess as I keep digging for more news clips and opinions on this, and when I finish Mapes’s book, I’ll fully see how the team made errors. Some of this is showcased in the film too, but I feel a bit more research is needed. They did make mistakes, but they shouldn’t have been attacked and destroyed as they were.
I say this, because a few days ago, again after I saw the film, I found a segment rom the “Rachel Maddow Show” on YouTube. In it she’s detailing a lot of the lead up and past for how this film can’t even have TV spots aired on CBS. The network said no. She mentions, how prior to Rather, Mapes and the rest of “60 Minutes”, aired their story, a lot of other networks were asking the same exact question. The only difference, Mapes and company had assumed they had hard, solid proof, which turns out couldn’t stand up to the type of scrutiny everyone put it through. I also say this, as today I watched, again on YouTube (gotta love YouTube), the apology “60 Minutes” and Laura Logan issued when some information from their Benghazi story turned out not to be as factual as they thought. This is for another time, but one question posed was why was CBS reacting nicer in the face of the Benghazi controversy, as opposed to how they treated Rather and his team back in 2004?
Something I didn’t expect to get from this film was a strong reaction, emotional too. It’s a drama so something is expected, but this was far different from merely being moved. It certainly seemed it. But what often times is forgotten when talking a bout a film, especially after you’ve seen it, is how it made you feel. How did you connect to it? Was it on some deep level? I must say I did and this is beyond just deciding for myself what the truth is behind this particular period in history.
My reactions in general were the happy and sad, and those in between. However, they seemed to get a bit more involved than ever before. I recall reacting as the characters did, when they got the good news and the bad news, and discovered that the surprises after the story aired were only getting worse. The reactions weren’t merely sighs or groans. I physically moved and adjusted myself in my seat. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that agitated and upset because of a movie. Guess it goes to show how much I cared, like the characters. I should say too, that unlike a lot of the people who will see this film, or have, and those in the theater with me, I knew pretty much nothing. I remember hearing that Rather had signed off from “CBS Evening News”, but I didn’t have the slightest idea as to why. At that time, I didn’t pay much attention to current events.
Which brings me to the emotional reactions I didn’t think I could have. Of course there were sad moments, but the saddest of them all was when Redford told Blanchett he was stepping down. It just hit so hard. Almost as if I didn’t know this was the expected outcome. To top it off, there was the final broadcast as Redford signs off, much like Rather. That did the trick. I was witnessing (sort of) the sad end of an era. It makes me wonder what this was truly like for those watching at the time or were there on set.
“…it’s about what’s happened to the news. Why it happened, how it happened, and why everybody should care about it.” – Dan Rather in an interview on “The Rachel Maddow Show”
This year has a big focus on journalism. It’s not the first time or a new idea, but this year seems to be more so than ever before. Enter “Spotlight”. “Spotlight” is an upcoming film focusing on a different, more triumphant, aspect of journalism. The film chronicles how The Boston Globe uncovered a big child molestation and cover-up by the Catholic Archdiocese, which became a huge scandal. While “Spotlight” portrays a huge and bright moment in history for journalists everywhere, and this film doesn’t, they do have something in common. They’re both about investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is hard enough, but sadly no one seems to do that many pieces that are truly investigative journalism or even important. Not like they used to. The interests of companies no longer favor actual news. So, while this film may be about a major screw up and a company making even worse decisions, it’s also about how difficult the job of an investigative journalist is. What goes into getting a story to air. Which brings up a good question, which is still important today.
What does this mean about/for journalism today? Every year we hear a different anchor or reporter bemoan the state of journalism, or in my case my professors when I was in school, yet nothing seems to change. Every now and then someone, or a team, does a story that’s incredible and the world is reminded for a moment. But we still don’t get enough actual and well thought out pieces of news. Nothing truly impactful. It’s because of this that I’ve more or less fallen out of love with journalism and news, even to some extent the media as a collective. I just can’t stand it anymore. And the news we get doesn’t have to be lengthy investigative pieces, but actual news that’s truly important and presented the way it’s supposed to be. As unbiased and balanced as it can be. Incredibly tough when there’s so many outlets and you never know what to believe or just simply can’t keep up. That’s another thing we’ve lost when it comes to news. The ability to trust.
Even after this film, I’m still up in the air when it comes to news and my love/hate relationship with it. I do have hope that one day I’ll come to love journalism and its final product, news, again. I can say that my hope has increased. Through the power of film (it really does have power), I’ve been shown a side of history I didn’t really know. I can evaluate it myself and see where it falls in line with my beliefs. I can even find myself inspired by who Mapes was at that time and throughout all her career. Even for all her failings with the Bush Guard story shown in this film, she’s still someone I believe was approaching her work the right way. We definitely need more people like this and those that will be seen in “Spotlight”.
Journalism doesn’t hold the same high level of honor it once did. But it can again. If anything, other than entertaining, this film and “Spotlight” can bring about some kind of national conversation on the issues presented, but also on journalism and the current state it’s in. They say speaking up and talking about an issue is what brings about change. Here’s they’re right, whoever they are.
Captivating and compelling trailer: