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(2015) *** R
121 min. Sony Pictures. Director: James Vanderbilt. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, Dermot Mulroney.

/content/films/4846/1.jpgThe aphorism known as "Heinlein's Razor" goes something like this: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice." The saying might well map the territory in which the new dramatic film Truth kicks around as it examines the prismatic circumstances of the CBS News scandal eventually dubbed “Rathergate.”

Writer-director James Vanderbilt (best known for scripting David Fincher’s meticulous Zodiac) adapts Mary Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Naturally, then, the film’s sympathies lie with two-time Emmy winner Mapes—played by Cate Blanchett as a torturously self-aware variation on the frayed-nerve Blue Jasmine character that won her 2014’s Best Actress Oscar—and with legendary CBS News anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford, icon as icon). Both journalists lost their jobs and, in many eyes, their credibility as journalists in the wake of a bobbled 60 Minutes Wednesday piece on George W. Bush’s stint in the Texas Army National Guard.

Covering a one-year period beginning in 2004, Truth tracks the investigation and circumstances leading to the piece’s airing, the swift blowback challenging the authenticity of memos framed as smoking guns (Stacy Keach excels as the memos’ slippery source), and the subsequent internal judgements leading to Mapes’ ouster and Rather’s resignation. Mapes’ team of investigators includes Lt. Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), who earlier helped her break the Abu Ghraib story, and archetypal journos Mike Smith (Topher Grace) and Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss, conspicuously overqualified for her small role). Vanderbilt employs all the clichés of the behind-the-TV-news genre, but also convincingly portrays how the sausage gets made and subjected to scrutiny from without and within the CBS News division, overseen by President Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood). (The film vocalizes, though not uncritically, the perception of then-CBS-parent Viacom being swayed by money-and-influence-plying Bush-friendly interests.)

Truth argues that while the memos in question may have been authentic (as Mapes and Rather continue to maintain they were, despite aggressive and successful attempts to discredit them in the public eye), their veracity was somewhat beside the point, tragically distracting from a larger truth that held the potential to change the outcome of the 2004 election. As such, Vanderbilt also holds to account Republican efforts to command the conversation and CBS News corporate-caving under the resultant pressures. Unavoidably, the film projects a liberal leaning as it lionizes Rather and lionesses Mapes, positioning the former as the latter’s benign, even heroic father figure in contrast to her abusive biological father (Blanchett’s finest moment here comes in a scene laying out the emotional cost of Mapes asking her father to stop publically speaking out against her).

Though the at-times clunky Truth cannot pretend to be free of its own leanings, Vanderbilt allows a reading of Mapes’ tragic errors amidst its melancholy diagnosing of TV-news’ slow, painful death march from the public trust into modern corporate product (“I was there,” Redford’s Rather reports ruefully, “the day they figured out the news could make money”) that welcomes an angrily divided “Vox Populi,” via internet comment sections, to speak their own ugly “truths” to disempowered journalists.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/2/2016

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony's Blu-ray + Digital HD special edition of Truth offers reference-quality A/V for a film of this type and fresh vintage. The natural-looking, soft-lit image is beautifully resolved in detail and subtly rendered in its hues. The picture is a bit on the low-contrast side, with somewhat murky blacks, but that's an accurate representation of the filmmakers' intent, adding to a more filmic look if subtracting a bit from dimensionality. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn't miss a trick of this talky material, with dialogue that's never less than clear and music that's presented with a nimble discretion of instrumentation and an overall full sound.

The commentary with James Vanderbilt and producers Brad Fischer and William Sherak covers all the bases of script development, production, editorial choices, music, and working with the cast, while also touching lightly on "Rathergate."

Six "Deleted Scenes" (12:11, HD with "Play All" option) include "Heyward Introduces Rather Extended," "He Wore That Uniform," "Meeting Burkett," "I Knew You Could Do This," "Gotta Go Kiddo" and "Josh Offers to Resign."

The featurette "The Reason for Being" (11:32, HD) intersperses film clips with interview clips of Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett discussing "Rathergate" and the state of American media.

Similarly, the promo-style "The Team" (8:43, HD) comprises film clips and interview clips of Redford, Blanchett, producer Brett Ratner, Fischer, Vanderbilt, producer Andy Spaulding, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, and Stacy Keach, as well as a bit of B-roll from the set. Discussion centers around Vanderbilt's approach and the characters as understood by the actors who play them.

"Q&A with Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, and director/writer James Vanderbilt" (32:59, HD), moderated by Jenelle Riley of Variety, offers the most in-depth, real-time discussion of the film amongst the video-based extras, and will be especially of interest for fans of the actors.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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