ComingSoon.net reviews Truth and Spotlight, two dramas about journalism, from the Toronto Film Festival
2015 is quickly becoming the year of the journalism movie with the Sundance Film Festival showcasing two films about journalists and their subject, True Story and The End of the Tour. The Toronto International Film Festival is following suit with two very different movies about journalism in terms of tone and the way they approach their true stories, both doing a commendable job of reminding us of the importance of serious investigative journalism. Both Truth and Spotlight are period pieces in the sense that they take place before 2005, although both involve stories that shook the worlds of journalism with the effect they had on politics and religion. In both cases, they take some time to find their footing in terms of getting the viewer involved, but once they do capture your interest, it’s hard to lose it.
Truth is about the scandal surrounding the CBS News show “60 Minutes” that took out veteran anchor Dan Rather in 2004, while Spotlight is about The Boston Globe’s investigative team that uncovered and exposed the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile in 2002.
“60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) wrote the novel that formed the basis for Truth, the directorial debut by screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac). When she discovers that current President George W. Bush, who is in the middle of a heated reelection campaign in 2004, may have pulled some family favors to get out of going to Vietnam and then didn’t fulfill his military obligations, it’s a big story that could sway the election towards Democrat John Kerry. Her corporate bosses don’t pay attention until new facts come out that seem to point towards Mapes’ political leanings.
Similarly, we meet the team of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team—a small staff of four under the supervision of Michael Keaton’s “Robby” Robinson–as they’re preparing their next big investigation under the paper’s new editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who persuades them to follow-up on tips that a number of Catholic priests are being sued for molesting children over the course of decades. Going up against the Catholic Church in Boston, one of the most Catholic cities on the East Coast, seems like a fool’s errand, but the “Spotlight” throw themselves fully into the assignment with Mark Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes and Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer doing much of the legwork as they learn that it isn’t an isolated incident as much as it is an epidemic of child molestation which the Church has been covering up by moving priests around different locations.
As with Truth, the premise for Spotlight may not sound particularly exciting or enticing, as the film follows news reporters questioning victims and meeting with lawyers on both sides of the case against the Catholic Church. Working on this story starts to affect the reporters, especially when one realizes that the “treatment center” for pedophile priests is right in his neighborhood, but he’s forced to wait on reporting, potentially putting other children (including his own) in danger from predators.
Spotlight really is about the reporting and the negotiations that lead to the story, while Truth is more about what happens after important news breaks as Mapes and her team (Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid) learn that documents may have been faked and that their sources had lied. That’s where Truth really begins to get interesting. Up until that point, the actual politics within Truth feels slightly stale 11 years after the controversial reelection of Bush, Jr., but Robert Redford’s portrayal of Dan Rather will still resonate with anyone who grew up with him as the definition of news reporting. It’s fairly clear that everyone around Rather holds him in high regard and the love towards the newsman is clearly felt both from Mapes and from Vanderbilt. Redford’s recreation of Rather’s last night on CBS is a particularly emotional and resonant moment of the film.
There’s little question that both movies offer two of the best screenplays of the year that are able to keep the viewer invested in what are heavily dialogue-driven films. Both of the film’s directors do an exceptional job with finding the right tone for the material with Vanderbilt making an impressive directorial debut with Truth, while Spotlight is such a departure for Tom McCarthy from his light indie dramedies such as The Station Agent, it really allows us to see him in a different light. As it were, Truth allows far more room for light humor than Spotlight, mainly because the situation Mapes and Rather find themselves as their corporate bosses
If anyone knows the benefits of having great actors in every single role it’s McCarthy and that’s another thing both movies have in common. There are actresses who seem to get nominated for every performance they give and then there are those like Cate Blanchett who truly deserve those accolades. Just two years after winning an Oscar for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Blanchett gives an even more memorable performance as Mapes, a strong and powerful woman in a man’s world who still has some inner fragility from having an abusive father. Her performance is what makes Truth so memorable, more than anything else.
While Spotlight feels more like an ensemble piece than Truth and all the actors are good, it’s really Mark Ruffalo’s show as Mike Rezendes, the “Spotlight” reporter who has to do the most legwork in terms of getting the needed documents to prove the Catholic Church were involved with the cover-up. His character has a calming demeanor that’s very different from anything we’ve seen him do before, but when his frustrations finally come out in an explosive tirade, it shows what a truly gifted actor Ruffalo is.
It’s admittedly not fair to compare the two movies, but I did end up liking Spotlight slightly more just because it succeeds in making what should be the least interesting aspect of the story—the research—as interesting as the story itself. Truth probably will be remembered more for how great Cate Blanchett is as Mapes, although at this point, Blanchett being amazing will surprise absolutely no one.
Truth: 8 out of 10
Spotlight: 8.5 out of 10
Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes
Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes