Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. Australia/USA, 2015. Sony Pictures Classics, Echo Lake Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Blue Lake Media Fund, Deluxe Australia, Mythology Entertainment , Dirty Films. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book Truth And Duty: The Press, The President and The Privilege Of Power by Mary Mapes. Cinematography by Mandy Walker. Produced by Brad Fischer, Doug Mankoff, Brett Ratner, Wiliam Sherak, Andrew Spaulding, James Vanderbilt. Music by Brian Tyler. Production Design by Fiona Crombie. Costume Design by Amanda Neale. Film Editing by Richard Francis-Bruce. Toronto International Film Festival 2015.
Television reporter Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) has years of experience producing 60 Minutes news segments performed by Dan Rather (Robert Redford, making surprisingly little impact), the two of them red hot after the exposé of Abu Ghraib that scandalized the American military. Three years after 9/11, the Bush administration is determined to go unquestioned in the name of national security and Mapes steps into a nightmare of a blowback when she produces a segment investigating Bush’s spotty war record. Receiving documents from affirmed sources and putting them through the usual rounds of verification and fact-checking, the report airs and the details are dismantled by online bloggers, the criticism gaining enough traction to have CBS bigwigs step in and peer into Mapes’ political leanings; the accusation that begins to snowball is that Mapes is too much of a diehard liberal to believe that Bush couldn’t be a liar. James Vanderbilt has written (and, for the first time, directed) a terrifying story about the crumbling of journalistic integrity and the lack of democracy in the Bush years that benefits from the presence of the entire cast, which also includes a spirited Topher Grace and strangely underused Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss as members of the segment crew. Where it falters behind a movie like Fair Game, which is far better in the Bush Ruined Lives genre, is in having a director who doesn’t trust us to find the morality in the story and telegraphs too many of the themes directly to us through awkward contrivances: comparisons to the Red Scare, the uneven inclusion of Mapes’ rough relationship with her offscreen father, even a curiously soft take on Mapes’ own errors denies her the right to be a challenging individual and makes her an effigy for Vanderbilt’s politics. Blanchett’s speech in the conclusion is brilliant, a brilliant summation of hard facts in the face of what amounted to bullies getting away with heinous behaviour, but the film feels like it is telling us that we should be on Mapes’ side cause she’s a Good Person With Feelings, and that’s not the reason why the story is important.