After the Campaign

After the Campaign: Truth

In my campaign review for Truth I wrote:

It’s not a huge, massively scaled campaign but that’s to be expected for a character-driven drama about a decade-old scandal about political journalism. But it hits the right notes by emphasizing the performances by Redford and Blachett as well as the tick-tock of how the story came together and then fell apart. If I were going to guess – and that’s what I do here – I’d say this is more or less exactly how the movie will play out. For fans of this kind of movie the trailer and rest of the campaign, while not the shiniest thing they’ll see, should connect well.

Having watched the movie now I can say yeah, that’s more or less how things worked. The movie is very much a sort of procedural, following first how a news story comes together and then how it’s torn down. I didn’t find anything in that’s in the movie that’s massively misrepresented by the campaign, though there are elements of things that don’t get their full due, such as the emotional moments from Blanchett that form much of the underpinning of the story. It makes sense why they aren’t huge elements of the marketing, but it’s also notable that there’s a lot more there than the campaign lets on.

If anything I feel like the marketing sells a story that’s split evenly between Rather and Mapes when in execution it’s clearly Mapes’ story we’re following, with Rather only occasionally popping in and out. But with his being the more recognizable name and with Redford playing him I can see why the marketing team made that call.

truth pic 1

Overall the movie was a lot better than I was expecting based on some of the reviews that accompanied its release and the mediocre score it has on RottenTomatoes. If I’m being honest it’s certainly not at the level of something like Spotlight but I’d place it only one full letter grade below it. So if Spotlight was an A-, Truth I feel is a strong B-. The performances are uniformly good (I’m always surprised by how much I like Topher Grace on screen) and the pacing of the story is pretty solid.

The reason, I think, it didn’t resonate with audiences like Spotlight did is that the story falls victim to its own subject matter. Spotlight has a story designed to make you feel good. Not only are these hard-working journalists but they did A Good Thing by getting justice for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. So they have done something great for society, which is an easy story to root for. Truth on the other hand asks you to care deeply about fonts and typewriter features and 15th generation photocopies of documents that may or may not be real. So the stakes are, legitimately, much lower and it doesn’t capture the imagination quite as firmly.

But that doesn’t mean the stakes are any lower. Truth does raise significant issues of journalistic integrity, particularly in the last half hour as the subject comes under scrutiny and the conversation shifts fully into the motives of the investigative team and away from the topic they were trying to uncover the reality behind. That means a lot for how reporters are doing their job. Again, it’s clearly not as important to people as what’s tackled in Spotlight but it’s no less important to society as a whole.

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