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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.