2016-06-10 10:44

What it's about:

Veteran newscaster, Dan Rather and CBS news head, Mary Mapes, chose to air a segment on 60 Minutes exposing how President Bush avoided being drafted to Vietnam through his father's political influence in the days leading up to the 2004 presidential election. The ensuing "Rathergate" firestorm of controversy cost them their jobs and reputations.

What we thought:

Truth in the journalistic world is a scrutinised concept, where facts can be skewed or lost in the deluge of information. In the internet age, truth has become a fluid notion, not perceived as objective as it once was, and this came to the fore during the Killian documents controversy in 2004, one of the first major US news stories that was broken by the internet. The film Truth explores how journalistic safeguards can fail the most seasoned reporters, how a media company can turn on their employees and by the end, not even the audience is sure of the truth anymore.

During George W Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, CBS’s 60 Minutes broke a story regarding documents that purported to prove that Bush was AWOL during his Air National Guard Service in the 70s. Hours later, blogs on the internet raised valid concerns regarding the authenticity of the documents, which led to the end of award-winning producer Mary Mapes’ (Cate Blanchett) career and famous news anchor Dan Rather’s (Robert Redford) exit from CBS.

Now before you go into the film thinking it will be objective, note that the screenplay was based on the book of the controversy written by Mapes herself. This slanted view is visible from the get-go, delving not only into the events that transpired but also into Mapes’ emotional spiral and her professional and personal relationships. The advantage of this from a cinematic point of view is that it definitely gives the film more bite as a drama rather than a docudrama, but on the other hand it colours in the ‘truth’ for the audience to be on the side of the wronged journalists, ‘martyrs’ for their journalistic integrity. Yet, many red flags still pop up as the story progresses, and one can’t help but wonder what really drove them to run a story on such thinly corroborated evidence.

South Africa is no stranger to this kind of real-life newsroom drama, although it sometimes feels like a story like this wouldn’t have had much effect on our politics. The film’s US-centric subject would more than likely not have much of an interest for a South African audience, although at times it likes to pretend to be a political thriller, when in truth it’s not that an exciting a story. An audience most interested in this kind of material would be those from the media world – journalists like ourselves who can draw lessons and debates from this like a case study. It becomes less about what is truth in the news and more about how to avoid becoming the news itself.

For a directorial debut, James Vanderbilt held his own, but that’s not too hard to do with the combined awesomeness of Blanchett and Redford, two actors with exceptional skills and poise. The two dominate the rest of the cast, with Blanchett spinning her emotional prowess and Redford oozing charm in every scene. It's hard for the other characters to be nearly as memorable when this is the star power you have to compete with.

Overall an adequate film, it won’t really cause a stir in the South African cinemas, but if you’re interested in American politics and the pitfalls of the journalism world, you might be able to find your own truth in this story.

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