In the same week that the Academy Awards bestowed Best Picture upon Spotlight, a real-life drama about the power of investigative journalism to expose corruption, Truth opens a different chapter on the media and its practices.
Writer-director James Vanderbilt’s handsome picture recreates the political firestorm that erupted when CBS News’ esteemed programme 60 Minutes publicly called into question the military record of US President George W Bush.
Key pieces of paperwork, used by 60 Minutes as links in a chain of evidence, were subsequently discredited and a key witness confessed he had lied about their providence.
Heads rolled at CBS including producer Mary Mapes, who recalled her version of events in the memoir Truth And Duty, and President George W Bush was inaugurated for a second term at the White House.
Truth distills turbulent events from this period into an engrossing portrait of flawed ambition.
In April 2004, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), producer of 60 Minutes, gathers together a crack team including journalism professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and researcher Mike Smith (Topher Grace) to dissect a potentially explosive story.
Lieutenant Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid) has acquired George W Bush’s Texas Air National Guard file and it’s curiously thin.
“You’re telling me the President of the United States may have gone AWOL from the military for over a year?” gasps Lucy after Mike gives an overview of his findings.
The journalists dig deeper and they make contact with Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), who claims to have some of the missing documents in his possession.
Understandably, the ailing veteran is reluctant to give testimony on camera for fear of the repercussions.
“We’re 60 Minutes. We’re the gold standard and we can help you,” Mary assures him.
With the paperwork in place, anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) headlines one of the most explosive editions of 60 Minutes on September 8, 2004, less than two months before the presidential elections.
Triumph turns to incredulity when bloggers pick holes in the 60 Minutes story, forcing Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood), President of CBS News, to call into question the journalistic integrity of Mary and her team.
Truth is a fascinating, if somewhat simplistic, recreation of a behind-the-scenes battle that ended the careers of award-winning journalists behind and in front of the cameras.
Blanchett and Redford deliver compelling performances as the TV producer and news anchorman, whose reputations are stained by their involvement in the expose.
They elevate Vanderbilt’s script and electrify their on-screen partnership, even when the film’s pacing sags.
Supporting performances are solid, including Dermot Mulroney as the slippery lead council of a panel convened to cast aspersions on Mary’s objectivity.
She fights tooth and nail to repel attacks on her integrity and Vanderbilt’s picture lands decent blows in her honour.