Monday 7 December 2015

Truth (2015) - Movie Review world loves an underdog. Except for some very rare exceptions, cinema tends to focus on the David of a given story rather than the Goliath. As a result of centuries of conditioning to unconditionally question authority, and to hate the faceless figureheads that run everything, we have grown quite accustomed to shaking our fists at the big guys. It is because of this, among other things, that so many conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati exist, despite a society that’s purportedly that secretive wouldn’t be known by name by pretty much everyone on Earth. However, this stance isn’t as easy to take when the minority was categorically shown to be wrong. Not to say it hasn’t been done; 300 became a pop culture cornerstone and it told that very story. Just that, when we’ve all become so comfortable with one side being in the wrong, it’s not so easy to show them in a positive light; it’s why barely any sports movies follow the team with the several year-long winning streak. As such, today’s film shines a spotlight on one of the more notorious live-to-air TV news blunders in recent memory. And no, this isn’t a blooper-worthy story; this is a bit more serious than that.

The plot: While looking through George W. Bush’s military history in preparation for the 2004 presidential election, 60 Minutes producer Mary Napes (Cate Blanchett) and her team come across a less-than-congratulatory report from one of his superiors. Eager to break the story, in the wake of similar allegations made towards Democratic hopeful John Kerry, Mary, her team and newscaster Dan Rather (Robert Redford) work together to make the news fit for broadcast. However, once it airs and accusations come in that one of their crucial pieces of evidence isn’t legitimate, they find themselves under direct inquiry and, potentially, the end of their respective careers.

This might be one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen all year, because it is insane just how good the performances in this movie are. While I maintain that Redford should have been in this film a lot more than he was, he brings a lot of dignity and professionalism that a name like Dan Rather deserves. I’m a little disappointed that he doesn’t whistle like a tea kettle whenever he used the letter ‘s’, but then again, I’m the idiot whose first encounter with him was a parody on Family Guy. Topher Grace is an actor that has never been able to impress; blame it on how he neutered Venom in Spider-Man 3 and has never been able to recover from that some eight years later. That said, while he does serve as Author Avatar for most of the film, he is amazingly good at delivering the speeches and cocky douchebag gestures that he is given as investigative journalist Mike Smith. And then there’s Cate Blanchett, who might give the best performance of her career in this film. Seriously, it is shocking how good she is, pulling off determination, vulnerability and sarcastic wit to craft a nuanced and fleshed-out character. That, and she is does a great job at delivering the dialogue she’s given.

Writer and first-time director James Vanderbilt is probably best known for penning the script to David Fincher’s Zodiac. Unless you’re a raving comic book geek, in which case he’s best known for his “god-awful” work on the Marc Webb Spider-Man films… a rant for another day is brewing at that statement, so I’m going to abandon that at the pass and actually focus on the film I’m writing about for once. From his dialogue in Zodiac, it should be clear that the man is legendary when it comes to creating compelling stories about investigative journalism. Now, at this point, I want to again bring up creative biases and how it is important to understand where a given film is coming from. Here, we have a very Liberal filmmaker and the ‘Based On’ credit is the memoir of the focal character Mary Mapes; take it on board now before continuing. This film is meant to be shown from the perspective of the people responsible for a TV news item that is remembered about on par with the Geraldo Rivera & Al Capone’s Vault incident. Judging by the scepticism surrounding the event and the reporters involved, and how the film has been judged because of that, I’m guessing that not all critics believe that every side should have their say.

With the intent to focus on the events as presented in mind, this is a brilliantly well put-together film. The writing is quick and whip-smart, yet stays coherent and never leaves the audience in the dust. The performances Vanderbilt gets out of these actors, even those I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular from, are all outstanding. Most of the great lines go to Mary, naturally, but some of her dialogue might stand as some of the best I’ve heard all year. Like, not since Dallas Buyers Club have I had a single line of dialogue have as big an impact as it does here. I won’t entirely spoil it but good lord, it’s always good when McCarthyism gets another smack to the face.

That said, this has quite a few soap-box moments, to the point where even I’m saying that they need to ease up on the grandstanding monologues. While we get some weirdly trite moments, like Col. Charles saying that Al Gore would have won the election if Mary’s mother hadn’t of died (it makes sense in context, but that only hurts the line more) or the elitist air that surrounds some of the journalistic discussions, but the big offender here is Mike Smith’s character. For all intents and purposes, this is the big Brian Griffin mouthpiece of the film. Not that this reflects badly on Topher Grace himself, as he puts a lot of passion into every word he’s given, but the out-of-nowhere diatribe he gives about Viacom does betray the film’s ideals when it comes to the truth.

Then again, this is nothing new for Vanderbilt. As much as Zodiac is a greatly scripted film, it’s more than a little telling when you have a film about a serial killer who was never identified yet makes seriously heavy accusations towards a single suspect. However, at least this time around, he has grown a little aware of his own tendencies. After Mike's massive tirade against Viacom, one of his bosses facetiously remarks about how it isn’t about how he and the rest of the team screwed up; it’s because of a massive conspiracy. In that light, that entire blast of fire and brimstone can be interpreted as just a sudden bout of anger; after losing your job under those circumstances, it’s understandable.

All in all, I was seriously dubious about checking this out. In fact, considering it didn’t play at my local, I was originally just going to skip this film entirely. For the love of all things cinema, don’t make the same mistake that I nearly did because this film is immensely satisfying. The acting is stellar and the writing shows some of Vanderbilt’s more annoying sensibilities but also his definite skill when it comes to depicting news rooms.

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