Ten days ago an HE headline asked if James Vanderbilt‘s Truth (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.16) was being “Zero Dark Thirty‘d” — i.e., relentlessly fired upon and controversial-ized for not presenting facts in a way that certain critics prefer, and thereby tarnished as a hot-potato movie that Academy voters may come to regard askance. The answer is yup, uh-huh, you betcha — the film is being ZD30‘d and torpedoed and what-have-you. Scott Feinberg‘s 9.17 Hollywood Reporter hit piece started things off, and yesterday a N.Y. Post slapdown article by Kyle Smith threw another log on the fire.
The attacks will continue and this somewhat melancholy, well-crafted and extraordinarily complex film will almost certainly be discredited by industry milquetoasts as a Best Picture contender for a very simple reason, and the kneejerk simplicity of this reason is why I just used the phrase “will almost certainly be discredited.”
The reason, I suspect, is that most critics and journalists will decide they can’t afford to support Truth because to do so would be seen as an endorsement of the incomplete vetting of the infamous Killian documents that were used in a 9.8.04 60 Minutes episode that explored whether George W. Bush received preferential treatment during his National Guard service in the early ’70s. So just as CBS felt it had no choice but to bow to the Republican attack machine by throwing producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and Dan Rather (Robert Redford) under the bus, journalists and critics will dismiss Truth because to give it a thumbs-up would allow any critic or enemy who pops up down the road to call their journalistic standards into question.
The fact that Mapes’ Bush story was essentially true is of little concern now or then; the fact that the documents may (emphasis on that word) have been forged or copied is everything. That is how the game of journalism works.
So unless a vigorous defense is immediately mounted by Sony Pictures Classics and Vanderbilt and their allies, the “word” will continue to spread and Truth will be dismissed, save for the praise coming from this corner and from Sasha Stone and a few other fans. Truth won’t open for another couple of weeks and the game is all but over, trust me, unless SPC and Vanderbilt come out guns blazing like the Wild Bunch, and unless they keep firing for the next three or four weeks at least. You can’t just put out a press release and let it go at that.
It would be incomplete to not at least mention that Sony Pictures Classics co-honchos Michael Barker and Tom Bernard are not what anyone would call scrappy combatants or “guns blazing” types, but sometimes people will surprise you. Who knows? Then again Sony Corporation publicists famously didn’t put up a fight three years ago when Zero Dark Thirty came under attack; they apparently felt that controversy would scare audiences away. They may have been right for all I know, but I also know that they allowed the film to be tarnished by not challenging the Stalinist-left assertion that film endorsed torture.
The main plot point in Truth, to repeat, is an apparent procedural failure to fully vet the infamous Killian documents by 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes for a story that explored whether George W. Bush received preferential treatment during his National Guard service in the early ’70s. The film is a fascinating account of a journalistic meltdown, of a slow sense of more and more hands tightening their grip around a reporter’s neck, and of corporate types almost instinctually deciding to ignore the truth in favor of political safety and expediency. The heart of the 9.4.04 60 Minutes story has never been successfully challenged by anyone.
Abundant evidence, a questionable document, accurate story, corporate cowardice — that’s what the film is about.