I have a feeling the real Mary Mapes is nothing like Cate Blanchett’s version of Mary Mapes in James Vanderbilt’s Truth. Not because I’ve met Mary Mapes or am particularly familiar with her (beyond video clips I watched in an attempt to familiarize myself with her mannerisms), but because the weight of Cate Blanchett’s performance will always crush whatever character she is playing. Whether a virgin queen, alcoholic divorcee, or TV producer, she is always Cate Blanchett above all—and thank God for that.
Truth tells the story of the Killian documents controversy (“memogate” if you’re annoying), the scandal that began after 60 Minutes II aired a story about documents that claimed to prove then president George W. Bush misrepresented the extent of his service in the US Air Force. After investigating the story with Dan Rather, among others, longtime CBS News producer Mary Mapes aired the segment on September 8, 2004. The backlash began almost immediately, and ultimately led to CBS retracting the story and terminating Mapes.
But enough about the facts—let’s get to the Truth. It’s a good movie! Overwhelmingly supportive of its protagonist and comically dismissive of her critics, sure, but when you base a book on a memoir, you’re probably not going to hear both sides. If I wanted an exhaustive account of what exactly happened and who specifically was at fault during memogate (excuse the hypocrisy), I’d do research. I’d read a few books. But I don’t want that. I want Cate Blanchett in a stressful wig, getting fired up about her responsibilities as a journalist while yelling at Dermot Mulroney and whatnot.
And she does all of those things in spades. Blanchett’s Mapes is worried about three things, and three things only: getting the story, taking care of her family, and figuring out whether or not she can have another glass of wine with that Xanax. It’s a mesmerizing performance in that almost-campy-but-not-quite-there way Blanchett has become known (and even won an Oscar) for.
Beyond Blanchett, the movie is a compelling enough, slightly above average media docudrama that’s more Shattered Glass than All the King’s Men when it comes to being memorable. Robert Redford gives an understated, vocally spot-on performance as Dan Rather, but the rest of the cast doesn’t really have much to sink their teeth into. As Mapes’s investigative team, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Moss, and Topher Grace just kind of drift through scenes when needed and, by the end, we’ve mostly forgotten they were even there.
As theaters begin filling up with more of 2015’s “must-see” Oscar hopefuls, it’s tough to recommend Truth as a movie worth your $15. If a stellar Blanchett performance is worth at least that to you, by all means see it immediately. But for everyone else, I recommend saving it for a half-price matinee, or a cozy night in with a glass wine that you can raise up to the screen each Blanchett and her wig appear onscreen.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece confused Toby Maguire with Topher Grace. It is Topher Grace who stars in Truth, not Toby Maguire. The author mixed the two up because they are both deeply boring.
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Image via Sony Pictures Classics.