Skip to main content

You’re really going to do it this time? Your evil corporate overlords will let you?

Truth
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Two notable films on the subject of journalism were released in 2015, one concerning dogged reporters successfully exposing the cover-up of decades of institutional wrongdoings, the other about still-diligent reporters tripping up and having knives sharpened at the expense of their perceived shoddy workmanship. One went on to win Best Picture Oscar, the other received mostly tepid reviews and made only a couple of million dollars at the box office. Truth admittedly veers towards the tepid, truth be told, but it didn’t deserve such an unmarked interment. I’m just not so sure there’s any conspiracy theory to be fashioned from its failure.


The problem lies firmly at the door of writer-debut director James Vanderbilt, who previously delivered a sterling piece of factual screenwriting for David Fincher’s Zodiac. His direction is unconvincing and underdeveloped, and not in the unshowy, understated vein that worked for Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight; the results feel movie-of-the week as, sadly, does his lead-by-the-nose writing and characterisation.


Vanderbilt adapted the memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power by Mary Mapes (played here by Cate Blanchett), the producer of CBS Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes, detailing the fallout from their 2004 investigation into and report on Dubya’s military service, which everyone knows (I say everyone, hosts of people still voted for him not once but twice, at least that’s what the polls tell us) shows him to have been in dereliction of duty. He’s just that kind of guy. If he could get away with it on account of daddy, he would. And did.


There’s more than enough juice here, and Vanderbilt has assembled a strong cast, although Blanchett is possibly the least impressive of the line-up, tending towards caricature when something subtler might have played better. It doesn’t help that Vanderbilt has gone overboard in embroidering Mapes’ home life (what a good mommy she is, what a supportive husband she has), to the point of insipidness; some of that is probably necessary, but it shouldn’t be distracting from the story.


Redford’s great though, bringing the weight of a guy who actually did make a classic movie about investigative journalism, the classic movie about investigative journalism (All the President’s Men), even if one might conjecture conspiracy within the uncovering of that conspiracy (as in, Woodward and Bernstein were, some posit, the convenient players in a sanctioned ousting of Nixon). I don’t really know Rather’s style and approach, and I’m not especially familiar with 60 Minutes, but Redford effectively portrays a bastion of old-style, when-it-meant-something journalistic pride (not that such an era ever really existed, but it appeared to exist, and that’s what counts) that hearkens to the like of Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. Indeed, Rather’s retired signoff “Courage” sounds straight out of that era.


Both Truth and Spotlight share a very real eulogising for the passing of prioritising the actual nuts and bolts and hard graft of the job in the age of the Internet, and the political motivations of CBS and its parent in firing Rather –  I have little time for the argument that it was all fair and above board – only highlight the farce of those vouching for real news being the very ones fanning the flames of its death; the situation now really is to “just read out what is handed to us”).


There are problems with the Rather presence, in as much as the likes of Topher Grace’s Mike Smith is given to rapturous veneration of the man as the reason he entered journalism, but because he isn’t centre stage, the character succeeds in the main as an iconic form. Likewise, Grace’s young firebrand is good fun, invigoratingly unpersuaded by the wheels and processes of the corporate system and given a particularly barnstorming rant at the man firing him (David Lyons’ Josh Howard), pointing to the political links between Viacom and George W before being led from the building with a parting “They’re going to screw you too, you know”. In the interests of balance, one wonders slightly why Viacom wouldn’t have put the kibosh on the story earlier had that been their plan, although the conspiracy view holds that the story was put out there so doubt could be cast on it.


The doubt being the veracity of the memos purporting to detail Bush’s military indiscretions, which despite having seemingly entered lore as fakes, have neither been proved or disproved, as the originals have never been provided to inspect (the font argument certainly doesn’t hold up as a case for dismissal). Grace’s outburst leads into the best section of the picture, ironically the last 30 minutes, as Mapes is hung out to dry by her bosses. Maybe it’s because a courtroom, even a kangaroo courtroom, scene is always good value, but the picture almost kindles something approaching a fire under it at this point.


Vanderbilt is actually quite good with depicting the way factors that became decisive on her fate were casually batted off by Mapes; it’s the way he underlines other aspects with treacly music and characters pronouncing how amazing they are that rankle, or clumsily introduces a brief subplot about Mapes dad (“What about my father?”) And, when the bottom line is voiced (“The system is rigged. It always has been. You know that”), you’re left wishing the whole picture had been as unflinchingly cynical. It doesn’t need bow-wrapped gushing like “Hey, Mary. I believe you” from her lawyer (Andrew McFarlane).


There’s fine support on hand from Dennis Quaid as a seasoned ex-colonel on the team and Stacy Keach as the crucial witness, not enough of Elisabeth Moss and Bruce Greenwood (but can that guy leave an impression in just a few seconds), but Truth leaves a general feeling of a missed opportunity. Other cases involving the press and politics have run aground at the box office while nevertheless making good pictures (Fair Game), but Truth is merely middling. It needed to be angry to make an impact, but Vanderbilt directs with indifferent resignation. This is the way things are going and there’s nothing that can be done. Probably true, but he could have been more impassioned about it.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.