Director: James Vanderbilt
Screenwriter: James Vanderbilt based on the eponymous novel by Mary Mapes
Runtime: 125 mins.
Australian release date: 3 December 2015
"All I want is the truth now, just gimme some truth…" John Lennon.
Based on a true event in 2004 involving the authenticity of documents which suggested that George W. Bush had received preferential treatment getting into the Texas Air National Guard in the late 1960s, James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut, Truth, may make people reconsider the uprightness of the ex-President. The documents pointed to him avoiding active service in Vietnam by using the influence of his family to get selected as an airman despite his low pilot aptitude test scores. This act was particularly insidious considering the gaol sentences imposed on conscientious objectors at the time, people who were standing up for what they believed in, not just trying to save their skins.
Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) was the principal producer of CBS’s current affairs program 60 Minutes and a close friend and colleague of Dan Rather (Robert Redford), the show’s anchor. They were the recipients of documents which had been passed on by a retired army Lt. Colonel, a Texan named Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach). The validity of these documents was immediately questioned by 60 Minutes’ competitors at the other TV networks, instead of investigating Bush’s military record themselves. They were miffed at being ‘scooped’ by CBS. None the less, it didn’t take long for the executives at the CBS head office to get spooked by all this negative publicity. This was around the time of President Bush’s campaign for re-election and there is much speculation that Viacom, the parent company of CBS, buckled to the Bush administration’s bullying. Let’s face it, they would not have wanted their candidate to be seen as deceptive and Viacom wouldn’t have wanted to get offside with the President’s people. The controversy eventually led to the forced resignation of three CBS producers, the sacking of Mapes (who never returned to TV again) and, before long, the retirement of Rather.
Shot in Sydney, Truth is a must-see. The cast, made up of a mix of American and Australian actors, is a treat. Playing ‘spot the Aussie’ is fun and there are plenty of familiar faces to choose from! Redford is highly convincing as Rather but Blanchett steals the show; she is simply mesmerising as Mapes. Mention must also be made of Noni Hazlehurst, who is outstanding as Nicki Burkett, the Lt. Colonel’s wife. Her final speech reminds us of what a fine actor she is, if we ever needed such reminding. Dennis Quaid, who plays Lt. Colonel Roger Charles, another player in the exposé of Bush’s military record, gives a great performance as this cynical ex-army man. Mandy Walker’s cinematography is crisp and fluid, reflecting the period with great clarity; she is ably supported by a mainly Australian production crew.
Surprisingly, Truth is only on a very limited release in Australia which beggars the question, why? One can only assume that the distributor thinks that most people won’t care about this issue. It’s a shame because this is the sort of movie that presents the opportunity for a healthy debate about the influence of politics in determining what we can see and hear on our airwaves.