Can you handle the Truth?

Elisabeth Moss, Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid.
Elisabeth Moss, Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid.

JOGGING past the imposing gates of Aquinas College before writing this review, I noticed the words emblazoned there: Veritas Vincit. Truth Prevails.

When you�ve seen James Vanderbilt�s Truth, you will wonder what the chief protagonists Mary Mapes and Dan Rather might make of that ideal.

Mapes is a name that may be less than familiar to you, despite award-winning work on seminal stories such as Abu Ghraib.

Rather, however, is in a whole different category, having been CBS Evening News anchor for more than two decades. His work ethic, delivery style and demeanour epitomised a conception of American professionalism and stoicism delivered to his country and the world at large.

It all starts so well for Mapes (Blanchett). After breaking the Abu Ghraib abuse story, it looks like she can do no wrong.

It�s September 9, 2004, the morning after the airing of her latest triumph on 60 Minutes II, presented by Rather (Redford) that purports to reveal new evidence proving that President George W. Bush had possibly shirked his duty during his service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974.

Moreover, it�s the lead-up to the presidential election to be fought between Bush and Democrat John Kerry; the outcome of this could have an effect on determining the presidency.

However, euphoria is quickly replaced by paranoia and panic, as doubts are raised on the authenticity of documents relevant to the matter. The pressure mounts and mounts and the powers that be at CBS are under increasing strain in their efforts to maintain the networks reputation.

The film is bookended by Mapes� interaction with a lawyer and it was clearly some surprise to much of the audience that the role was played by John Sullivan or should I say Andrew McFarlane, of The Sullivans, Patrol Boat and Play School fame.

However, much of the film was shot in Sydney, Blanchett�s own production company was heavily involved, James Packer was executive producer and after the slew of American talent in the lead roles, there is a cornucopia of recognisable Australian actors filling the remaining parts (Rachael Blake, Natalie Saleeba, Noni Hazlehurst and Philip Quast among them).

Vanderbilt, a writer and producer who makes his directorial debut here, maintains that Truth is not essentially about Bush and his guilt or otherwise.Vanderbilt�s interest is in the machinations and nuance of the journalistic industry and what makes newsrooms tick.

This is both the film�s strength and weakness. There is an undoubted fascination in getting beneath the veneer of Rather.

Redford plays him straight, capturing the essence of a highly principled, though frequently mischievous journalist without trying to recreate an American legend.

Blanchett brings her considerable technique and formidable will to inhabit the spirit of Mapes, on whose book on the matter the film is based.

Yet, like it or not, the context is undoubtedly grounds for speculation, drama and intrigue. After all, this is the George �Dubya� of �Weapons of Mass Deception� and a war that capitulated Iraq into chaos, creating the conditions for the genesis of groups such as IS, now creating mayhem in the region.

At this moment in time there is revisionism by the likes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding their part in the Iraq War.It gives Truth a certain prescience that is not exploited by any measure.

Instead, we have the drama of the build-up to the broadcast and details of the network politics that then come into play.

It�s thought-provoking, somewhat inspiring. Yet part of me yearns for that other film. But would that be Truth? Maybe that lofty principle has prevailed after all.

THE ESSENTIALS

Truth

Directed by: James Vanderbilt

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid

Three stars

Review by Martin Turner

In cinemas now