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Truth: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Truth (2015) movie poster Truth

Theatrical Release: October 16, 2015 / Running Time: 125 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: James Vanderbilt / Writers: Mary Mapes (book Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power); James Vanderbilt (screenplay)

Cast: Cate Blanchett (Mary Mapes), Robert Redford (Dan Rather), Topher Grace (Mike Smith), Dennis Quaid (Lt. Colonel Roger Charles), Elisabeth Moss (Lucy Scott), Bruce Greenwood (Andrew Heyward), Stacy Keach (Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett), John Benjamin Hickey (Mark Wrolstad), David Lyons (Josh Howard), Dermot Mulroney (Lawrence Lanpher), Rachael Blake (Betsy West), Andrew McFarlane (Dick Hibey)

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When cinema features journalists, it typically casts them as the heroes, risking everything to uncover corruption amidst great pressure from powerful forces. We've seen it in All the President's Men,
the landmark tale of Woodward and Bernstein exposing Watergate. We've seen it in current Best Picture contender Spotlight, dramatizing The Boston Globe's investigative team's reports on the archdiocese's sex abuse scandals and cover-ups.

Truth, the directorial debut of veteran screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man, White House Down), tells the story of journalists reporting on a scandal, only to have their reporting become a bigger scandal.

The year is 2004 and after an historically close race to get elected, President George W. Bush has seen his approval ratings soar and fall. His re-election campaign currently finds him in a dead heat with Democratic candidate John Kerry. Mere weeks before Election Day, CBS' primetime news magazine series 60 Minutes II pursues a report on the incumbent president's much-scrutinized record in the National Guard, where he served from 1968 to 1973, avoiding serving in the Vietnam War in the process.

The docudrama "Truth" stars Cate Blanchett as "60 Minutes II" segment producer Mary Mapes, whose report on President George W. Bush's time in the National Guard sparked controversy and disgrace.

Producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) assembles a team of trusted colleagues to look into the possibility that President Bush went AWOL for over a year. The story hinges on elusive military records and confirmations from officials, most of whom have passed away. When the story goes to air, having respected lifelong newsman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) as the face of it, it grabs the public's attention. Questions over the segment's veracity, particularly the critical documents secured for it, follow almost immediately. The thrust of the report's content soon becomes less important than the scrutiny given those documents online and at other outlets, as the font spacing, sizing, and formatting (including the use of superscript) suggests the documents could have easily been produced not on a typewriter thirty years earlier but on Microsoft Word now.

The fallout is swift and severe, with Mapes, Rather, and the story's various other contributors (including those played by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, and Topher Grace) facing heat and interrogation.

Truth differs from the aforementioned journalism film standard bearers and their ilk (The Insider, The Killing Fields, Frost/Nixon, etc.) in one glaring way: the journalists whose true story it dramatizes do not appear to be doing the work of heroes. They're not exposing widespread corruption or shocking conspiracy. They're basically performing a hatchet job on Bush with a questionably-sourced story at the moment when it could most impact the imminent presidential election. Wherever you stand on the issue, which was nicknamed Rathergate for obvious reasons, you may find the movie's depictions troubling and insufficient.

Not a single effort is taken to make Robert Redford look like Dan Rather, the familiar longtime news anchor he portrays in "Truth."

Our sympathies are meant to remain with these journalists, even after it becomes clear they haven't maintained the necessarily high standards of their profession in vetting sources and materials. The story is never all that compelling anyway, despite it being presented by actors as respected as these. It's a film that wants to take its place among the great journalism movies that have come before.
But it strikes the tone of a lesser docudrama and never shakes that off. Even Blanchett, about as decorated as any modern actress, can't do anything with the underwhelming hysterics that lone screenwriter Vanderbilt has given her in his adaptation of Mapes' own 2005 memoir Truth and Duty.

The source text results in a one-sided view of a controversy that demands a multitude of perspectives. Our understanding of the potential document forgery and the ways in which journalistic integrity was failed are almost deliberately kept shrouded. The simplified story being told is one of truth-seeking journalists being shot down by The Man, potentially as a result of pressure applied on CBS parent company Viacom by the Bush administration itself. There is nothing but speculation to support that claim, which makes the film guilty to a small degree of the same misdeed that got Mapes fired and drove Rather to resign.

Though foreseen months in advance as a potential awards player, Truth never fit that model, despite hailing from Sony Pictures Classics, arriving in October, and taking a limited release rollout. Reaching over 1,000 theaters by its third weekend, Truth's inability to excite audiences was clear from its measly $781-per theater average and lowly 16th place finish. Unrecognized except as an extension of Blanchett's Carol accolades, the film will soon close with less than $3 million domestic and barely anything from overseas territories. It hits home video on Tuesday in a DVD and in the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition reviewed here.

Truth: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Truth exhibits excellent picture and sound on Blu-ray, which is typical of a Sony disc. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp, vibrant and immaculate throughout, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does a good job of distributing ambient noises, score, and the primary ingredient of dialogue.

Mike Smith (Topher Grace) pops up at Mary Mapes' house in this deleted scene. Take a very close look to decide if that's Robert Redford or the real Dan Rather talking about things in "The Reason for Being."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director James Vanderbilt and producers Bradley J. Fischer and William Sherak. Vanderbilt leads the way and explains why he wanted to make this film as a first-time director
(excluding the VHS short he made about a killer penguin at USC), how he envisioned it embodying three different genres in one, how he and others convinced Mary Mapes to option her book for them, how Cate Blanchett became involved, making people talking in rooms interesting visually, filming in Australia, having made children's theatre with Topher Grace, building sets, film school techniques applied, and directing actors based on bits from their past films. Displaying the passion of a newcomer and an obvious love of the craft, Vanderbilt is engaging and his company (one of whom seems to skip out early) does just enough to give this more life than a solo track.

On the all-HD video side, we start with a Blu-ray-exclusive collection of six deleted scenes (12:11). These show us more of Mary's family life and of bits truncated for the final film.

Another BD exclusive, "The Reason for Being" (11:32) gives us thoughts on the story from the real Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, as well as the accomplished actors portraying them.

"Truth: The Team" (8:43) turns our attentions to the supporting players and the actors portraying them.

James Vanderbilt, Elisabeth Moss, and Cate Blanchett answer questions in this Q & A. The Blu-ray's top menu, like the film's poster and cover art, paint "Truth" as a Cate Blanchett-Robert Redford two-hander.

A Q & A session titled "In Conversation" (32:59) with Blanchett, Moss, and Vanderbilt lets the three answer questions from both moderator Jenelle Riley (Variety) and those in attendance.
You know what to expect from sessions like this, which produce some candid remarks and touches on topics that making-of featurettes and commentaries might not.

Truth's theatrical trailer (2:06) is kindly preserved, one of the benefits of Sony Pictures Classics distribution.

"Previews" replays the six full trailers with which the disc opens, for Infinitely Polar Bear, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Irrational Man, Grandma, Labyrinth of Lies, and The Lady in the Van.

Looping a bit of score, the static menu screen divides the screen for its two leads, offering a variation on the poster and cover art.

A glossy slipcover reproduces the same artwork of the side-snapped keepcase below, but distinguishes this as a Blu-ray + Digital HD edition. The Digital HD with UltraViolet code is the subject of the only insert.

Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and her staff (Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) watch as their report is called into question.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Despite the interest of its subject matter and the talent of its personnel, Truth fails to stir with its simplistic portrayal of a modern journalism controversy. Sony's Blu-ray more than gets the job done with terrific picture and sound plus a truly substantial collection of extras highlighted by a standout audio commentary.

Buy Truth from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Grandma Our Brand Is Crisis Love the Coopers Crimson Peak 99 Homes Meadowland
Written by James Vanderbilt: Zodiac The Amazing Spider-Man The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Cate Blanchett: Blue Jasmine The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Monuments Men The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Robert Redford: Captain America: The Winter Soldier A Walk in the Woods | Dennis Quaid: The Words Smart People
Elisabeth Moss: The One I Love Did You Hear About the Morgans? | Topher Grace: The Calling Traffic Spider-Man 3
The Insider Spotlight Broadcast News Morning Glory Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

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Reviewed February 8, 2016.



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