Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes in Truth (Lisa Tomasetti/Sony Pictures Classics)
It has been 17 years since Cate Blanchett played the definitive version of the Virgin Queen in Elizabeth, no mean feat considering the role had been played previously by Bette Davis and Glenda Jackson. Blanchett followed that with roles as diverse as Katharine Hepburn, Bob Dylan, the elf queen Galadriel and a pill-popping take on Ruth Madoff. She has demonstrated a range that matches Meryl Streep, as well as a naughtiness and an impeccable taste for material that Streep lacks. It is time to consider Cate Blanchett our greatest living actress, and her role in Truth – her first leading performance since winning every award imaginable for Blue Jasmine – is one of her best.
So many of Blanchett’s performances show a great flair for camp, like her villainous secret agent in Hanna and her adulterous schoolteacher in Notes on a Scandal, but as “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes, Blanchett plays the role straight. This is a role that requires no trickery outside of a light Southern accent, making her acting triumph one of internal substance rather than external frills. Blanchett plays the producer responsible for exposing the torture conducted by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, after which she discovers evidence that George W. Bush received preferential treatment in order to avoid service in Vietnam. CBS News breaks the story well before the 2004 election, but bloggers question the documents, which form the basis of the story. This leads CBS to disavow the story and launch an internal investigation that implicates Mapes and her team for their investigation.
In real life, Dan Rather was the on-air talent who broke the story. In Truth, Robert Redford takes the role of Rather. No one will ever confuse Redford for a character actor. The Sundance Kid will never disappear into the roles in the same way that Blanchett does. Yet after the initial adjustment to hearing Redford adopt Rather’s distinct voice, he creates the illusion of Rather alongside the actuality of Robert Redford performing him. Any failure of this illusion is the fault of audiences and their decades-long relationship with him and not of Redford’s own performance, which is one of his best.
More importantly, the presence of Redford in Truth aligns it with the great cinematic love-letter to journalism, All the President’s Men. That film detailed the successful reporting that was able to take down the Nixon administration, so it is a fitting bookend that this film concerns failed reporting that helped to reelect George W. Bush. As a companion piece, Truth exposes just how tenuous some reporting can be; no matter how much a reporter attempts to verify the evidence, doubt will always remain. This was as true for Woodward and Bernstein as it was for Mary Mapes and Dan Rather; perhaps if Nixon had right-wing bloggers casting doubt on the Washington Post in the 1970s, he would have completed his second term in office instead of resigning in disgrace.
Blanchett and Redford receive able assistance from a cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Stacy Keach, Elizabeth Moss and Topher Grace, whose hipster beard is the one period detail from 2004 that the film gets wrong. Quaid, Moss and Grace play Blanchett’s team of reporters researching the story, and it is a pleasure to see three such distinct personalities play off of one another.
Ultimately, though, the film belongs to Blanchett. Her best moment is a tearful phone call from her abusive father in which she packs more emotion into two sentences than most actress can during an entire film.
Truth raises comparisons not only to All the President’s Men but also to The Insider, the 1999 Michael Mann film about another exposé at CBS News. It is better than the latter, and as strong as the latter thanks to a stronger lead performance. Between this and her Cannes sensation Carol, Blanchett may need to add another wing to her home to house the awards that will come her way. This should rank as one of the best films of the year, and Blanchett undoubtedly as one of the best performances.
Sony Pictures Classics
In theaters Oct. 16
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