I did not expect James Vanderbilt to do his impression of Roland Emmerich for me. And I certainly didn’t expect it to be so dead on. Vanderbilt was talking to me on October 2, 2015, about his upcoming collaboration with Emmerich on the sequel to INDEPENDENCE DAY, the script for which Vanderbilt contributed, and I guess he just couldn’t resist. I was glad about that. I was sad that it was after I stopped recording and started taking the picture at left.
An animated man with a suitably fluid way with words, Vanderbilt talked about what lured him away from his usual cinematic flights of fancy, as I termed them, to the real-life drama of Mary Mapes versus CBS news. He wrote the film, which marks his directorial debut, based in Mapes’ book, and while the specifics of what happened, how television news became less about fact, and more about perception, I was interested in talking about my admiration for the way he neatly folded so many facts into the film without it feeling like dull exposition, avoiding the obvious tropes of good guys and bad guys, Cate Blanchett’s spontaneity, and the pleasures and perils of casting one icon (Robert Redford) as another icon (Dan Rather).
We finished up with a teaser about what may or may not happen in Emmerich’s upcoming sequel to INDEPENDENCE DAY.
TRUTH is a film about details, veracity, and the decline of network news as a public service. Cate Blanchett stars as Mary Mapes, an ace producer for the CBS News with a talent for finding a story, and a genius for putting it together for broadcast. She was the producer who broke the Peabody Award-winning story on Abu Ghraib. In late 2004, she was following a series of promising leads about a mysterious gap in then President George W. Bush’s service record in his time in the Texas Air National Guard, where he served during the Vietnam War, a war Bush spent stateside. There were the pressures of available airtime, a source who doesn’t want to be named, and an old-boy network in Texas that brags, but doesn’t want to go on the record to contend with, but when the story aired on 60 MINUTES II, reported by veteran newsman Dan Rather, during the 2004 presidential election, the reaction wasn’t to the substance of the story, but instead on the minutiae of ancillary issues, and the credibility of Mapes and Rather themselves, which led to personal attacks that had nothing to do with their professional competence. Credibility that had heretofore gone unquestioned. The result was a battle between the eponymous truth of the story itself, and the corporate interests and political influence that continue to shape what the public sees, hears, and reads in the media. The film co-stars Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood, Stacey Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, Andrew MacFarlane, Dermot Mulroney, and Robert Redford as Dan Rather. Vanderbilt directed from a script he wrote based on Mapes’ book, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and The Privilege of Power. His previous work includes scripts for WHITE HOUSE DOWN, THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN, THE RUNDOWN, ZODIAC, and the return to aliens versus the President of the United States, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. TRUTH is his directorial debut.