I sat down last night at Greenblatt’s Deli with Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt and producer Brad Fischer. Both are Hollywood Elsewhere “lurkers,” they told me, and are highly appreciative of my pro-Truth views. We talked for about 40 minutes. We covered this & that but my chief focus was the press’s response to the film. Not how much Truth has been admired by top-tier critics and columnists (Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, Variety‘s Justin Chang, Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston, N.Y. Post‘s Lou Lumenick, The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey, The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard), but how Vanderbilt and Fischer will respond if more Scott Feinberg– and Kyle Smith-style hit pieces pop up between now and opening week. Their answer, more or less, was “we knew this would be a controversial film from the get-go, but we’re proud of it and whatever happens, happens.”
(l.) Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt; (r.) Truth producer Brad Fischer.
To which I said okay, fine but you can’t let the critics (depending on how many are out there) gain the upper hand. If those two articles are the end of it, fine, but if others attempt to slam Truth for offering an overly-supportive portrait of the conflicted journalistic record of former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (fiercely portrayed in the film by Cate Blanchett) and CBS anchor Dan Rather in the matter of the 60 Minutes Killian memos story, something similar to what happened with Zero Dark Thirty might potentially occur.
I for one don’t feel that Truth glorifies Mapes and Rather’s journalistic misstep (i.e., submitting the disputed Killian memos as proof of George Bush‘s less-than-sterling National Guard record) as much as immerse the audience in a truly hot journalistic mess, one that feels more and more enveloping as the film goes on and which still starts ignites arguments 11 years after the fact.
Critics of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s Zero Dark Thirty claimed that it endorsed torture and should be accordingly shunned. A decision by Sony publicists to to not put up a fight three years ago when Zero Dark Thirty came under attack allowed the film to be tarnished and in so doing killed its Oscar chances.
I’m not saying it’s likely that Truth will get into a similar sticky wicket, but it’s possible. If this happens it might lose out as a potential Best Picture contender — an honor and distinction that I feel it fully deserves — and that would be a shame. Either way Vanderbilt and Fischer have made up their minds, they say, to just let the film speak for itself and not jump into the fray (if in fact a fray awaits). I suggested that at the very least that Rather (played in the film by Robert Redford) should tap out a 1200-word guest editorial piece that debates whatever shortcomings the Feinberg-Smith team has accused the film of, and feed it at the right time to the N.Y. Times or Variety or Salon or whomever.
Here is most of last night’s chat, which happened over pickles and a couple of really sloppy egg-salad sandwiches. After we wrapped I followed Vanberbilt and Fischer over to the Harmony Gold facility for a post-screening q & a between Vanderbilt, Cate Blanchett and costar Elizabeth Moss, which was hosted by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley.