By Jane Freebury
MOVIES featuring journalists have a way of looking at the best or the worst of the profession with little shading in between.
It makes for some memorable characters.
If you saw Jake Gyllenhaal as the gutter rat in Nightcrawler or can remember Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now you get my meaning. It’s just as hard to forget Robert Downey Jr as the Australian journalist with a dark cloud of implications swirling around him like flies in Natural Born Killers.
Then there are the shining lights. Cate Blanchett as the crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin who dies for her craft. And Robert Redford in All the President’s Men, as a golden boy of journalism, one of the famous duo who exposed the Watergate conspiracy in the heady days of truth to power in the 1970s.
In this fine new film about how dedicated journalists can come undone, Redford has emerged from semi-retirement to play real-life CBS anchorman Dan Rather, a veteran journo who in 2005 resigned after his involvement in a controversial news item on TV's 60 Minutes.
It’s another story from the annals of journalism that broke at the time of a pivotal presidential election - which election isn’t? And it feels safe to assume that Redford got involved because it meant something special to him, like his other recent work like All is Lost and The Company You Keep.
It also feels fairly safe to assume that Cate Blanchett, who has the role of Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes, also felt personally drawn to this intelligent exploration of the quest for truth. Her commitment and passion combine with a fine script from director James Vanderbilt (screenwriter for Zodiac) that is based on Mapes’ book about her ordeal when she was hung out to dry by CBS for not subjecting her sources to the scrupulously rigorous check she should have. Like going into typefaces and superscripts and acronyms of the day in the early 1970s when a young George W. Bush became a member of the Texas Air National Guard instead of getting himself swept up in the draft for Vietnam.
That said, Truth is not about exposing journalist error or even journalist bias particularly. Though there are riveting scenes when Mapes defends herself in front of an inquiry, with her lawyer’s advice ringing in her ears – there is no truth, only opinion and it was her job to sway it. Here, in a counter-point to the case for a forensic approach to detail, we are about how the bigger picture, the underlying truth, can so easily be lost in skirmishes over detail.
This is the film’s strength, the way it gets you thinking. By now it’s well known that the shoot was conducted in Sydney’s CBD. A testimony to Blanchett, who agreed to take part if it was filmed here, and her star power.
Cinematographer Mandy Walker was behind the camera and plenty of local talent appeared in support roles. Noni Hazlehurst has a small but significant role as the wife of a key witness, National Guard veteran Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), for Mapes and her team, who suddenly delivers a blistering speech in his defence. Vanderbilt has persuaded actors with real integrity and screen cred for his key roles, though I wish he hadn’t made the mood quite so ponderous, or felt the need to genuflect whenever Redford appeared in frame. The swelling score didn’t serve Redford or his character well.
Anyway, Blanchett is on fire in her role, as she was in Blue Jasmine, ablaze here with professional indignation at the idea that the voting public were likely being duped. It was the sense that someone very important was being protected and covered up for that led Mapes to forget to cover her own back and go for broke. No doubt the stopwatch at 60 Minutes ticks for its staff just as loudly as it does for the people in its crosshairs. The news magazine juggernaut waits for no one, even journalists Rather and Mapes, who had only just broken a story about torture at Abu Ghraib.
Also published at www.janefreeburywriter.com.au