Cate Blanchett may well have missed out on an Oscar this year for her performance in Carol, but she more than deserves one for this movie and her utterly convincing turn as real-life investigative journalist Mary Mapes.
Mapes worked on CBS News’ programme 60 Minutes, winning accolades for her breaking of the Abu Ghraib torture story. But when she decided to go after President George W. Bush and his somewhat murky military career, her professionalism was called into question, the show became the subject of heated dispute and its anchor, the respected Dan Rather (Robert Redford) – who was a father-figure to Mapes – found his job on the line.
Had Mapes been ‘duped’ by her main contact, Lt Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach)? Were the military records Mapes had purportedly unearthed from the late 1960s and early seventies, actually been produced on a computer using software that hadn’t even been created then? Suddenly, everybody wanted a piece of Mary Mapes and it was up to her, her fantastic journalist team and hours and hours of meticulous paperwork to try and prove the story had not been made up and at its heart was true.
Just like Oscar-winning film Spotlight, Truth is about paper trails and grunt work, those in authority using smoke and mirrors to bury things they don’t want revealed and also about the way the press (be it television or newspapers) can turn on itself if it sniffs blood and a good story. Basically, Mary Mapes was hung out to dry and Blanchett perfectly encapsulates the utter frustration and anger of a highly principled and professional woman as she tries desperately to fight a losing battle with those who are more powerful than herself.
Just like Spotlight, we follow the news team as they sift through the records, interview people, check their contacts and their facts and leave no stone unturned in order to get to the truth. However, as this is based in a TV newsroom and not in a newspaper office, there is an extra element that ratchets up the tension – the time scale. The Spotlight team were given all the time they needed to get their story just right, Mapes had to decide to go with her story when 60 Minutes broadcast – she could not miss her slot. If anything, that just adds to the sense of intrigue and foreboding.
Written and directed by James Vanderbilt and based on Mary Mapes’ own book about the show, this is a beautifully put together movie with a really intelligent script and containing a wonderful double act between Redford as the old, vastly experienced newsman and Blanchett, his younger protégé.
In fact, as a film it is probably superior to Spotlight – and that’s a mark of just how good it is.