Monday, December 07, 2015

Truth (2015)

It's possible that I procrastinate going out to see movies until they are almost finished commercially—it's one way to beat the crowds. The 10:35 a.m. Saturday matinee of Truth that I attended was the only showing scheduled for the day, which tells you how it was doing after two weeks. There was only one other person there besides me—a jackass, as it turned out, though mostly benign. At the end of one preview he called out, "What was the name of that one?" I looked around and that was when I realized it was just him and me. He was a few rows back. I gave it a couple seconds and then told him. "Oh yeah, that's right," he said, and it was the last time he spoke, though he had several audible reactions during the picture, guffawing and cheering. I was never tempted much to either but I thought Truth was all right. I was interested in the core story, the downfall of Dan Rather and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes in 2004 over their reporting of George W. Bush's military service record. I was hoping for more details on the mystery at its core, the provenance of certain smoking-gun documents that later turned out to be likely forgeries. In retrospect—oh hell, even then—2004 was a remarkable low point in American public life, between Rather's stumble here and the so-called swift-boating of John Kerry (not to mention Abu Ghraib or the reelection of Bush based on gay-baiting). Truth lays it out reasonably well, with some allowance for predictable Hollywood schmaltz. It's a typical enough project for Robert Redford, who surprised with a very sharp Dan Rather impersonation. It was written and directed by James Vanderbilt, his first time directing. Vanderbilt also wrote the screenplay for Zodiac, so I knew he had some taste for these kinds of tantalizing and elusive public mystery stories. The movie is marred by its overwhelming Oscar-bait impulses, which turn it into a by-the-numbers psychodrama about a fraught and complicated father-daughter relationship. It's based on Mary Mapes's account—she was effectively run out of the industry after the events depicted here—and maybe that's the way she framed the drama in her book. I don't know it. Cate Blanchett plays Mapes and she is fine, as always. But I kept thinking: enough about Mapes and her father issues. Can we get back to those documents? I also had a gnawing feeling that my viewing companion a few rows back would have more questions for me at much worse times than during the previews. Probably wisely, the movie is steadfastly agnostic on the documents and their origins. I enjoyed revisiting the mystery and kept wanting the movie to be more than a routine prestige exercise.

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