The Truth about CBS 60 Minutes drama, Truth
There’s a always a fine line to walk when it comes to adapting any true story into a fictional medium. The further back in the past the story takes place the easier it is to fudge on some details. Dramatizations of modern events are always trickier. Portraying events that many in the audience lived through, saw and experienced makes for an uphill battle, even more so when the subject matter is divisively political. Truth, directed by Zodiac scribe James Vanderbilt, tells the allegedly true story of the 60 Minutes Team at CBS News’ investigation into former President George W Bush’s time in the Air National Guard and the fallout that came with the investigation.
The movie begins with a very agitated and tense Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchette) being asked some tough questions by a lawyer. She’s asked if she has a substance abuse problem, or considers herself a radical feminist. The opening minutes set the tone of the film. There are going to be tough questions ahead for Mary, both asked by and asked of. The movie then flashes back to Mary and her team airing their eventual Peabody award winning report on the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal. Her team is plucky, close knit and described by Mapes as “crack.”
Shortly after the airing of the Abu Ghraib report she receives a tip about a damning memo that would reveal President Bush went AWOL during his time in the Air National Guard and lied about his military service during Vietnam. This comes during the Presidential Election cycle and could very well sway the election. With veteran reporter Dan Rather at her side Mary sprints ahead with the story, despite some very suspicious and cloudy circumstances regarding the memos.
In the end it seems as though the memos were faked and in Mary’s headstrong pursuit of the truth she fumbled along the way. She’s fired, her team asked to resign and Dan Rather retires shortly thereafter. It’s not a happy ending for our truth seeking heroes, but honestly I walked away feeling as though it was a deserved outcome.
Whether the team at CBS was right or wrong never really enters into the equation. At the end of the day you look at what they did and wonder what they could have possibly been thinking. It was sloppy journalism. We’re supposed to root for a character that steadfastly pursues a flimsy story. When told that the evidence doesn’t hold water they ignored it and kept marching. They took people at their word, believing that was all the evidence needed. It didn’t matter if Bush did or did not go AWOL. What mattered was this team really didn’t do a great job investigating it.
As a film I enjoyed it. Removing what I know of the actual events surrounding I was able to have a good time watching. Cate Blanchett is superb, as per usual. I believe she’s one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the silver screen. Robert Redford disappears into his role as Dan Rather. Its inspired casting. Denis Quad and Topher Grace fill the supporting roles with plenty of charisma as well.
James Vanderbilt has not directed much, though he’s written some great films. It’s surprising that this script feels kind of clunky at times. There’s a few too many overly melodramatic and downright cheesy moments. Most of these happen during some kind of exposition, and are usually accompanied by a swell of over dramatic music. It’s unfortunate because we rarely need such sloppy storytelling. We don’t need to be told a characters motivation, we can understand it through their actions. What’s worse is most of these moments are centered around Cate Blanchett’s character, and she’s such an amazing actress that we don’t need this extra info on her character. She’s giving us everything we need in spades through her performance. Why tell us that she views Dan Rather as a father figure, when the performance between Redford and Blanchett makes that clear as day. A tighter script would have certainly elevated the film to greater heights, there’s no denying that.
At the end of the day this probably won’t be an award winner. It’s a serviceable film, but the actions of the heroes are largely unsympathetic and it makes it hard to root for them. Couple that with the knowledge of actual events that most audience members bring with them makes for a middle-of-the-road kind of drama. Neither great nor bad, it simply is.