The gripping directorial debut of screenwriter James Vanderbilt, "Truth" tackles the story behind the controversial 2004 "60 Minutes" segment that effectively ended the career of veteran CBS anchorman Dan Rather. Fresh off breaking the Abu Ghraib story, CBS producer Mary Mapes (an excellent Cate Blanchett) is looking for a new story to add to her successful longtime professional partnership with Rather (Robert Redford, convincing despite his decidedly un-Rather-like golden locks). At a time when Bush supporters are running ads attacking the military service of John Kerry, Mapes receives a tip that leads her to dig into George W. Bush's own service record, and finds information which suggests that not only were strings pulled in order to get him into the Air National Guard in order to avoid the Vietnam draft, but the future president was AWOL during his supposed time of service. A month before the election, it's the type of huge story that could potentially sway the outcome.
Mapes puts together a team of researchers to assist in putting the story together, including military consultant Lt. Col. Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), freelance muckraker Mike Smith (Topher Grace), and journalism professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss, sadly given the least to do of anyone). Though many of the players are unwilling to talk, the team eventually tracks down the seemingly incriminating information they need and succeed in uncovering a couple of memos that appear to back it up. But immediately after the story airs, conservative bloggers begin to question the authenticity of the documents used to prove the veracity of the story. With questions raised, sources begin to back away from their statements and the entire report begins to unravel. Smelling blood in the water, other news outlets pile on. CBS execs, wanting to protect themselves by launching their own internal investigation, essentially throw Mapes and her team to the wolves.
Vanderbilt's previous writing credits include both "Amazing Spider-Man" films and "White House Down," but more critically-recognized, the journalistic thriller "Zodiac." He's got a knack for tossing names and dates at his audience while always making sure the information remains completely clear -- he also deserves credit for turning debates about fonts and typewriter subscripts into compelling viewing. Vanderbilt doesn't fully exonerate Mapes and her team, but shows how in the modern era of journalism, unrealistic deadlines and constant pressure to be the first to break a story inevitably leads to critical mistakes being made. He also rightly suggests the entire memo debate was a distraction from the real discussion the media should have been having; just because certain details of a story might not be true, doesn't necessarily prove the entire story is false.
In arguing the merits of true investigative journalism and the importance of asking the tough questions of those in power, Vanderbilt's screenplay has an unfortunate tendency toward preachiness, as it hammers home its points. And the less said about the screenplay's cringe-inducing need to make a direct correlation between Mapes' history of abuse at the hands of her father and her decision to become a journalist, the better -- "I don't like bullies" Mapes explains at one point. "Truth" is frequently tense and compelling, but in allowing its undeniably important message to be delivered in noble speech, it too often feels like it's just reciting talking points.
On Friday, October 30, at 8 p.m., the Dryden Theatre's 26th annual Labor Film Series continues with a screening of "Pride," about the 1984 union between LGBT activists and striking miners standing up to Margaret Thatcher, in a special presentation co-sponsored by the ImageOut Film Festival.
Also on Friday, The Little and Fright Rags' Mondo October horror film series will screen the cult classic "Fright Night." In addition to the film, the screening will feature an art show from Dudes Night Out, food and drink from Le Petit Poutine and Roc Brewing, and a costume party. The film begins at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5.
At 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 31, The Little will host a screening of the "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" featuring an all-new score performed live by the Andrew Alden Ensemble. Tickets are $10.
The 2nd annual Upstate NY Horror Film Festival, screening more than 40 short horror films from around the world, will be held on Saturday, October 31, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Cinema Theatre. Tickets are available for $20, or $15 for those who arrive in costume.