“What is it about movies based on true stories that makes them so great?” my friend asked me as we left the theatre the other night. I had no answer. Reflecting, I think they’re terribly gripping because we recognize the main characters and the events without having understood everything that was going on behind the scenes. This is what I think makes Truth such an amazing movie.
Based on the book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power by award-winning journalist Mary Mapes, this movie tells the story of a , investigative journalism team that tracked down a story that portrayed President George W. Bush, well, basically, as a draft dodger, in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election. Despite efforts to obtain absolute irrefutable proof that G.W. got into the Texas Air National Guard through his father’s influence, along with several other young men from wealthy Texas families, their source for one of the main documents lied to them about who he acquired them.
Starring Cate Blanchette as Mary Mapes, and Robert Redford as news anchor Dan Rather, the story begins with Mary Mapes telling her story to a lawyer. She starts her story at the beginning, putting together a team, gathering the information using a whiteboard and timelines and stickies, with files obtained from the military, and then, a source who has documents that show that G.W. was transferred to a base in Kentucky where he never showed up and his superior officers couldn’t give him an evaluation. They have difficulty getting corroboration from a general but finally obtain it with 3 of the investigators listening on the phone. Two of their four experts verify the signature on it; the other two can’t because the documents are only photocopies.
The show is aired and becomes news everywhere but, within a couple of days, their presentation is under attack. The general retracts his statement, the source admits he lied, and a scandal ensues. Both Rather and Mapes have their careers destroyed, although Rather is able to step down amid accolades.
The filming is great, the acting, superb, and the news room realistic, the story, totally compelling. It’s one of those stories that makes you want to know more, and I’ll definitely be getting the book which, like so many that have been made into movies, will probably have much more detail. Mapes and Rather are seen as role models for younger journalists, seasoned journalists who entered the field because of a curiosity that could not be stemmed no matter what. The brass at CBS comes off looking mercenary, while there is poetic justice in the middle management pair that approved the story and then led the attack on the investigative team being canned as well. Whatever your politics, this is a great story, a great movie. * * * * *