Directed by James Vanderbilt
2015 Biographical Drama
2 hours 1 minute
From Sony Pictures Classics
John Benjamin Hickey
You only have to think back to 2004 to recall the real story. It concerns the CBS 60 Minutes segment that detailed how President George W. Bush, wily coyote that he is, avoided duty in Vietnam due to family machinations. It was claimed that Bush served in the National Guard, passing over many other candidates. It also supported a notion that he spent very little time with the Guard.
At the heart of the story was 60 Minutes producer, Mary Mapes, who got wind of the story and assembled, to her, at least, a crack team to investigate. Part of the team was newsman Dan Rather who was a longtime friend and coworker of Mapes, and a man who seemed to trust her implicitly.
I saw the film in three acts. The first was this investigation and introduction of the principals. The second is when the investigation starts unraveling but is not yet a personal threat to the credibility and careers of the investigating team and the third act is when it does become a personal threat.
There was the accusation that the team solicited the accounts of liars and that documents used to strengthen the team's case were forgeries. CBS assembles an independent internal investigation where members grill Mapes and her team. (One of my favorite parts of the film was when Mapes is called upon.) The end result is that Mapes and her entire team, plus of bunch of CBS execs, were fired.
Naysayers may find the film's accounting of the true-life events to be a little self-serving and prejudicial in favor of Mapes. The screenplay, after all, was based on her book, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and the Privilege of Power. I think she and her team reported the truth and there's a lot of dialogue to support that. But the other side is compelling as well, especially since it ruled against Mapes and her truth. Had they not ruled that way, Bush may not have had a second term as president and history would have been a helluva lot different.
Regardless, I found it all compelling. I love films based on true events, as I have said before. I thought of it almost in terms of a white-collar thriller, an adult whodunit. It reminded me from time to time of 1976s All the President's Men (also starring Redford as a real journalist) and 1999s The Insider (also concerning 60 Minutes), two films I found engrossing. It concerns the political scene, yes, but is more about the inner workings of the newsroom. Journalists are taking a hit these days... witness the fallout from the most recent Republican debate. This film may prove timely.
Blanchett, of course, is brilliant... what else is there to say? I noticed this wholly American story was filmed largely in Australia, so I presume the lady had some say-so in that. I think her pull also played out in the billing since she is billed above Redford. You may not find that so interesting but take note that no actress has been billed over Redford since Streisand in The Way We Were and no actor since Newman in The Sting, both 1973. So bravo to Blanchett. You've come a long way, Baby.
Redford registered strongly as Rather. He had the mannerisms down although I question why his hair wasn't darker. Did anyone notice Rather is not a blond?
|The reel and real Mary Mapes and Dan Rather|
The remaining cast did it for me as well. I especially enjoyed Topher Grace as one of the reporting team, David Lyons (anyone remember him as Monroe in TVs Revolution?) as Mapes' immediate supervisor and Bruce Greenwood as Andrew Heyward, the head of CBS.
I am often critical of the work of first-time directors, which James Vanderbilt is, because it is often clumsy and lacking the panache of more experienced people. I would double that when that first-time director also writes the screenplay, which Vanderbilt also did, adapting Mapes' book. But to me he pulled this one off with the precision of a more experienced director. You may have seen some of the films he has written... Zodiac, The Amazing Spider Man, The Amazing Spider Man 2 and White House Down, among others.
It's been a good couple of days at the movies, even a good month. And according to the previews I've been watching, it's going to be an interesting rest of the year.
A good 40s film