Truth’ takes a high-minded view of a TV-news scandal

Cate Blanchett as 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as CBS newscaster Dan Rather in Truth.

Three stars

Truth Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid. Directed by James Vanderbilt. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Starting with its highfalutin title, Truth is very concerned with lofty ideals. Writer-director James Vanderbilt’s paean to the virtues of journalism can feel a bit belabored, prone to grandiose speechifying and awkward exposition. At worst, it’s like watching an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s ill-conceived HBO drama The Newsroom. But Vanderbilt isn’t as condescending as Sorkin could often be, and he has a top-notch cast to deliver his impassioned plea for a dying profession.

A fiery and committed Cate Blanchett plays 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, who in 2004 put together a story that questioned then-President George W. Bush’s military service—and was later widely discredited, although Mapes and her team stood by their reporting. That team included CBS news icon Dan Rather (Robert Redford), who eventually resigned from his position over the scandal. Vanderbilt focuses on the various pressures (deadlines, politics, anxious sources) that contributed to cutting corners on the story, and he frames the subsequent investigation as a witch hunt aimed at Mapes in particular.

It’s not surprising that a movie based on Mapes’ own book is sympathetic to her, but Blanchett makes her a person worth rooting for, and Vanderbilt makes a strong case that the substance of the report was unfairly dismissed over questions about the authenticity of a few documents. He makes that case over and over again to diminishing effect, although Redford (channeling Rather’s folksy wisdom) and the rest of the supporting cast give it some much-needed energy. The movie is never quite as rousing as it’s trying to be, but it comes close enough.

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