In a just world, one free of arcane rules and fine print, Cate Blanchett would have been battling herself in this year’s Best Actress Oscar category. Yet for now it’s disallowed for anyone to be nominated twice in the same category in the big awards ceremonies, so Blanchett campaigned for Carol (released last November) while Truth was quietly shoved into the shadows. It’s a shame, as while it’s not the work of art that Carol is, Truth, a riveting watch in itself, features one of Blanchett’s best performances.
Based on fact, Truth has Blanchett as Mary Mapes, a producer on 60 Minutes, the American news magazine show. In 2004, Mapes and Dan Rather (Robert Redford), a journalist-slash-national treasure, headed an investigation that questioned the military record of then President George W. Bush. They alleged that he had not completed basic training and used family connections to avoid fighting in Vietnam. After the episode detailing the allegations aired, Mapes’ sources were challenged and the whole story began to disintegrate.
This isn’t a film about journalists snapping at the heels of power. It’s not an All The President’s Men or a Spotlight. It’s a film about how in modern media the truth becomes secondary to the best narrative. Mapes is a woman fighting against rivals who turn her mistakes into the story and bosses who value business interests over the national interest.
Blanchett plays Mapes as a woman torn every which way, furious that she has fallen short of her own journalistic standards, but astonished that an error in their case has made the whole thing, in the eyes of the rest of the world, a fiction.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 director James Vandebilt’s film is at its best when sticking with the story and following Mapes at work. Showing her at home with a gentle husband and giving a back story of a cruel father to try and explain her is unnecessary. You get the full portrait of the woman when she’s doing her job. If you manage to nab Cate Blanchett for a part you don’t need to force a human-interest angle. She’ll tell the story for you, no sensationalism required.