Oscars, Dan Rather & George W. Bush: ‘Truth’ is Beauty in Toronto

One of the great pleasures of awards season is discovering a film that was low on the radar, with little advance hype, but turns out to be an Oscar contender in multiple categories. “Truth” is one of those films, a real gem of the current Toronto Film Festival.

James Vanderbilt makes an impressive directing debut, scripting from Mary Mapes’ book about her 2004 “60 Minutes II” story with Dan Rather. They had alleged that cronies in the 1970s helped George W. Bush enlist in the National Guard to avoid Vietnam, further claiming he was basically AWOL most of the time. Bush was President up for re-election when the story aired; within 24 hours, the old-style news team was stunned because the then-burgeoning internet exploded with skeptics who questioned every detail of the report.

It’s going to be a hot-button movie, with online haters already blasting the film without seeing it, while general audiences are likely to embrace it and ignore the noise. It’s not really a political film, but more about the digital age we’ve entered, and about eternal questions like loyalty, betrayal and how elusive “hard facts” can be. As the title indicates, it’s about truth.

Cate Blanchett is outstanding as Mapes. As good as Blanchett is in this year’s “Carol,” she’s even better in “Truth,” as a woman who’s smart, gutsy, and always vulnerable, in the kind of role (and performance) that awards-voters love.

Robert Redford is excellent as Rather, capturing the voice and attitude; it’s one icon playing another. Redford deserves supporting-actor accolades, with only two challenges: There is stiff competition this year and the actor once again takes a difficult role and makes it look easy.

Vanderbilt and his entire team do terrific work. The film will reignite the Rather-Bush debate; the “60 Minutes II” report hit a nerve about the media, spin and political bias. The furor around the film won’t be that intense, but the veracity questions will resurface. However, the louder conversation is likely to be about the filmmakers’ skills.

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