(director/writer: James Vanderbilt; screenwriter: book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Powerby Mary Mapes; cinematographer: Mandy Walker; editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; music: Brian Tyler; cast: Cate Blanchett (Mary Mapes), Robert Redford (Dan Rather), Topher Grace (Mike Smith), Dennis Quaid (Lt. Colonel Roger Charles), Elizabeth Moss (Lucy Scott), Stacy Keach (Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett), Bruce Greenwood(Andrew Heyward), John Benjamin Hickey (MarkWrolstad); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bradley J. Fischer/Brett Ratner/William Sherak/Doug Mankoff; Sony Pictures; 2015)

Blanchett’s fiery righteous performance fuels the historical story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

James Vanderbilt’s only directorial effort is a solid newsroom drama even if it falls short on excitement and drama. It is one that fully covers the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating then-President George W. Bush’s military service during the presidential election year. It asserts he failed his military obligations, as it documents his questionable service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

It tells us Bush pulled strings in 1968 to dodge Vietnam by taking Texas Air National Guard pilot training. Yet when the story is aired, the reputations of 60 Minutes News producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and CBS News anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) come under harsh scrutiny rather than the President. As a result the two were canned by the station because of sloppy sourcing (or falling for fake news), as this probing high-minded drama tries to understand how that is possible. While not condoning the sloppy sourcing, the film comes to the conclusion that nevertheless the 60 Minutes story got things right.The maligned research team consisted of Lt. Col. Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), journalism prof Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and freelancer Mike Smith (Topher Grace). The team is faulted for relying so much on supporting documents reportedly written in 1972 and 1973 by Bush’s commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, that label Bush a no-show.

When the Killian documents are discredited, the report falls apart and no other media source will touch it.Blanchett’s fiery righteous performance fuels the historical story. Redford, even if not looking like Rather, gives a satisfying quietly noble presentation of the always dignified Rather.

But it’s the CBS studio honchos who look cheap and untrustworthy for throwing both Mapes and Rather under the bus, especially when they pushed the button to rush the segment forward in their ratings battle even though they knew it had to be further researched. Writer and director Vanderbilt based the eye-opener rousing political docudrama on the 2005 book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power on the self-serving but damning book by Mapes.