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Daily Variety explores how the truth behind this year’s crop of pics gets massaged into Hollywood’s own brand of cinematic veracity.

CATCH A FIRE
FACTOMETER RATING: 7
GENESIS: A hard-working, black family man and soccer coach, Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) was arrested by apartheid-era South African police after the oil refinery where he worked was bombed. He’s tortured, his wife is arrested and tortured, and he becomes an operative of the anti-apartheid and outlawed ANC party. The South African government sees him as a terrorist; he considers himself a freedom fighter.LIBERTIES TAKEN: The character of Nick Vos (Tim Robbins) was a composite, but helmer Phillip Noyce, after an emotional meeting with Chamusso, asked screenwriter Shawn Slovo to put more events from Chamusso’s life back in the script.
THE SPIN: Slovo, of course, had to take some dramatic license with Chamusso’s story — cinema demands certain conventions — but remains faithful to the harrowing yet but eventually uplifting tale. Indeed, the end of the film includes footage of the real Chamusso at the orphanage he runs in South Africa.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
FACTOMETER RATING: 8
GENESIS: The origins of the iconic WWII photo depicting the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima have always been clouded in mystery and controversy. Who were the men who performed this feat? What happened to them? Could the truth be more complex than the simple heroic act pictured?
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Narrative devices and composite characters, but essentially director Clint Eastwood has gone to great lengths to burrow into the recorded facts as compiled in the nonfiction book of the same title. One diversion from the actual history is the implication that American Indian war hero Ira Hayes developed alcoholism as a result of his traumatic experiences in the war, while several sources have indicated this condition preceded his war service.
THE SPIN: Veterans of a bloody battle were used by civilians to raise money that was desperately needed to fund the war effort. The victory was essential, but journalistic truth was the casualty.

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
FACTOMETER RATING: 7
GENESIS: Documentary helmer Kevin Macdonald was very particular about keeping the story of Uganda’s General Idi Amin real. Pic borrows the (fictional) central relationship between the dictator and his personal physician from Giles Foden’s novel, but otherwise refers referred back to documentary footage (such as Barbet Schroeder’s “autoportrait” of Amin) and historical records to portray the tyrant’s rise to power.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Amin did, in fact, have a Scottish physician, but the Nicholas Garrigan character (James McAvoy) is Foden’s invention, a composite of several historical figures who had access to and influence over Amin. Incidentally, it was a different Ugandan doctor whose secret affair with Amin’s wife Kay (Kerry Washington) resulted in her grisly death.
THE SPIN: By introducing a Westerner with whom audiences could identify, pic underscores Amin’s seductive quality to outsiders. By the time Amin’s darker side surfaces, viewers are already partly complicit in the moral choices that transformed an idealist into a mass-murderer’s closest confidant.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
FACTOMETER RATING: 7
GENESIS: While researching his Iwo Jima epic “Flags of Our Fathers,” Eastwood had several Japanese texts translated into English. The one that impressed him most was “Picture Letters From Commander in Chief,” a collection of correspondence from Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his family, filled with emotional sentiments and playful sketches — not at all the picture of the leader Eastwood had imagined. The documents served as a jumping-off point for a second film about the battle told from the Japanese point of view.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Features two significant interactions between Japanese and American troops: In the first, a Japanese officer orders his men to treat a wounded American soldier. Later, a deserter surrenders to the Americans, who shoot the prisoner.
THE SPIN: Unlike pics that paint Japan as the aggressor, “Letters” depicts a defensive battle. Once Iwo Jima fell, Americans would have a launching pad to attack Tokyo, and these soldiers (including the cowardly lead character) are fighting to protect their homeland.

MARIE ANTOINETTE
FACTOMETER RATING: 5
GENESIS: Sofia Coppola based the pic on Antonia Fraser’s scholarly and exhaustive biography that rehabilitates the queen’s image in laying out the political realities of 18th-century Europe, the forces pushing on the teen queen from her powerful and political mother, Maria-Theresa of Austria, and the corrupt and decadent court of Versailles. And it dispels the apocryphal story that she uttered the infamous phrase, “Let them eat cake.”
LIBERTIES TAKEN: The aristocrats party to New Order and the Strokes, wear Manolo Blahnik shoes, and Queen Marie even sports pink Converse All-Stars.
THE SPIN: Film’s sympathies lie clearly with the doomed queen (Kirsten Dunst), and lays bare her navigation of the complexities, overbearing etiquette and politics of the 18th-century French court, adhering to Fraser’s POV. It also illustrates her predicament in not producing a male heir until several years into the marriage, a development that came close to causing a pan-European political crisis.

MISS POTTER
FACTOMETER RATING: 8
GENESIS: Somewhat scandalously for her Victorian era time, upper-crust Englishwoman Beatrix Potter became the world’s bestselling children’s author. On her path to fame, she lost the love of her life, who was also her publisher, but regained her zest and purpose by devoting herself to preserving farms of England’s magnificent Lake District and finally finding love again.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: She actually self-published her first book, which was a hit, while later in life she became a land conservationist and sheep farmer.
THE SPIN: Potter’s passion for her art and steely determination to chart her own course make her a feminist heroine, but that ambition is greatly humanized by her fragile quest for love and understanding.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
FACTOMETER RATING: 7
GENESIS: Will Smith was touched by a “20/20” profile of Chris Gardner, a dedicated father who rebounded from homelessness to become a millionaire stockbroker. Gardner was on set three or four days each week during filming, which helped Smith capture the emotional truth of a character who feels more “real” than any other he’s ever played.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Gardner’s autobiography offers a less rosy version of events. For instance, after a nasty fight, Gardner’s girlfriend had him arrested for beating her, and that (not unpaid parking tickets) was the reason he showed up to his Dean Witter interview in a Members Only jacket and paint-specked tennis shoes. What’s more, she disappeared with his son for the first four months of Gardner’s internship.
THE SPIN: “Pursuit” sees Gardner’s travails as a superheroic act of parenthood. By casting of Smith’s son Jaden as “little Chris,” the movie conveys the bond between father and son that acting alone can’t re-create.

THE QUEEN
FACTOMETER RATING: 4
GENESIS: When Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, all the U.K. — indeed, much of the world — was in shock and mourning, except for members of British royal family, including the queen, whose own relationship with the headstrong young woman was complicated, to say the least.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Was Tony Blair the brilliant mastermind of the queen’s turn from callous observer to committed participant in the funeral proceedings? Was Prince Charles really such a querulous wimp? Was the behind-the-scenes plotting and planning of Diana’s funeral driven by the soap operatics of the famously dysfunctional royals?
THE SPIN: The queen is, deep down, really just a nice mum who’d let herself go off-track for a bit, but out of deep devotion to her people, regained her royal composure.

UNITED 93
FACTOMETER RATING: 7
GENESIS: The film is based upon the horrific events of 9/11, specifically the hijacking of an airliner with the intent to crash the plane into the U.S. capital, a plot thwarted by the desperate and heroic efforts of the passengers and crew who all died in the ensuing crash in the Pennsylvania countryside.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Outside of a few recordings and phone calls to loved ones, there is no record of exactly how the passengers reacted to the crisis, rallied and changed the course of the flight and history.
THE SPIN: To conquer terrorism, common people can and must rally and take action.

WORLD TRADE CENTER
FACTOMETER RATING: 9
GENESIS: Drawn from the true stories of heroic public servants who risked their lives on 9/11 and entered the World Trade Center on that horrific day.
LIBERTIES TAKEN: Compression of time, some imagined conversations/encounters and exchanges, but the two main characters survived the attack and have told their own stories, largely an account based on firsthand testimony.
THE SPIN: 9/11 was an act of hate, but the responses to the attack were powerful acts of selflessness and a deepening of bonds between husbands and wives, families and friends.