Robert Redford does not look or act much like CBS news anchor and “60 Minutes II” star Dan Rather. But that doesn’t matter much.
What matters, and what’s germane to the distressing inchoate quality of “Truth,” is that Rather comes off as a saintly cardboard dullard in writer-director James Vanderbilt’s film. Even if you don’t know what’s missing – a hint, maybe, of Rather’s legendary swagger – what’s there does not compensate.
Top-billed Cate Blanchett tears into the role of the hard-charging news producer Mary Mapes, a maligned scapegoat in the movie’s eyes. In September 2004, on the brink of George W. Bush’s re-election, Rather led the on-air charge with a Mapes-produced “60 Minutes” segment regarding discrepancies, vagaries and riddles about Bush’s Texas Air National Guard duty during the Vietnam War.
It was a hot number. But key memos cited in the report drew charges of forgery. The story wasn’t persuasively verified. Crucial documents were framed on air as authentic; they were not. After an on-air retraction and apology, Rather bowed out, and Mapes was fired.
The film feels dodgy, tentative and uncertain as to how to frame its own protagonist in a complicated story of journalistic compromise (and worse).
As Mapes assembles her news crew, “Truth” becomes a story of leaked memos, followed by a fatal shortcut or two, followed by an hour’s worth of screen time devoted to regrets, crises and fallout. Vanderbilt honors Mapes and all she endured on the way up (she won a Peabody for her Abu Ghraib coverage) and then down. But he dishonors the tradition of the journalism movie by falling for every cheap emotional tactic in a book that should have gone out of print.
The actors can only do so much. Redford does as little as possible in the name of cliché reduction, but it’s a recessive characterization from beginning to end. Blanchett compensates, compellingly, and then overcompensates.
The drama – the honest, telling details of this saga – would’ve been enough.
Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss and Topher Grace
Writer-director: James Vanderbilt
Rated R (for language and a brief nude photo)