Movie review: 'Truth' doesn't dare get tough on subject

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

The first mistake "Truth" makes is its title, a brazen boast for a film about a circumstance in which such truth was elusive.

It's a document of the difficulties of investigative journalism in a world that increasingly devalues it, but it's also reverent of its subjects to the point that it's deferential to their mistakes. This movie would set up a hell of a discussion in a journalism classroom (assuming that's still a thing).

Set in a 2004, "Truth" centers on Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), a producer on CBS' "60 Minutes." In the months before the presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, Mapes greenlights a segment questioning Bush's time as an airman in the Texas National Guard - specifically whether he actually fulfilled his duties as required.

Mapes assembles a crack investigative team (Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss among others), which completes the story after numerous dead ends and roadblocks. They are aided by their smoking gun, a 1973 document from a Bush superior that indicates the young Bush wasn't even on-site.

But when the segment airs, questions about that document take off like wildfire, one that would end up consuming the careers of both Mapes and legendary CBS anchor Dan Rather (played here by Robert Redford).

Writer and first-time director James Vanderbilt adapted "Truth" from Mapes' own book about these events, which would explain the general lack of critique of the journalistic work done.

For much of its first half, "Truth" shows just how tough and important this kind of journalism is. But when Mapes' story comes into question, so does "Truth." Certainly your political leanings will flavor your feelings about the movie - if you're looking for a fight with your conservative uncle, look no further.

But from a more purely structure and entertainment standpoint, "Truth" feels like a lightweight version of better movies - Michael Mann's "The Insider" came to mind.

Though the depicted martyrdom of Mapes is questionable, Blanchett's performance is not. She evokes the kind of leadership that calls for making tough decisions, even if the film can't seem to allow any of those decisions to be wrong.

In fact, that performance will likely be the main thing "Truth" is remembered for - Redford's Rather isn't as special. This may be a typical case of a Best Actress nomination coming from a flawed movie (a trend that could be reversed with a simple idea: more movies with lead roles for women).

2 ½ stars