“In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

Here’s what happened: In 2004, the very popular “60 Minutes” show ran a segment investigating George W. Bush’s service or nonservice in the Texas National Guard. A few, mostly inflamed liberal inquiring minds, wanted to know, did George W. Bush get a free pass by enlisting in the Texas Air National Guard, to dine on tacos in San Antonio, and miss serving in Vietnam?

Well, everyone who was not caught up in defending John Kerry who was being “swift boated” at the time, seemed to think so, but no one could prove it.

Of course those Americans who grew up in the ’30s and ’40s knew damn well that fate and luck favored the very rich.

But television freelance journalist Mary Mapes and her crack team, (Dennis Quaid, a very good Topher Grace and Elisabeth Moss) hungry for success in a very competitive business, went after it with a passion.

They produced the story with such surety and energy, that the big CBS power players caught the ratings fever, and ran it. So did the great Dan Rather, then a top evening news face, who also agreed to add his name and face to it.

But wouldn’t you know, before the sun went down that night, the whole thing came apart, and someone let the corporate dogs out. Friends and family and a successful Republican base came roaring to life to defend George.

What did Mapes do? She got hold of some incriminating internal documents from the Texas Guard, and with her team went kicking the bushes, (no pun intended) to see if any rats, moles or snakes would run out and prove her story.

Betrayal set in. People who said they “knew” didn’t. People who said they “would,” suddenly would not. Documents that were presented as golden, turned out to be tin. Doors once open slammed shut, the curtains of “friends” were drawn.

Before long, careers crashed, contracts were torn up, well-known people were escorted out of CBS’s doors, and Dan Rather was given the choice of resigning or carrying his box out the door. He chose to fall on his sword.

So that’s history, now dry and brownish. Mapes hasn’t worked on television since, and Rather? That great newsman is working on a website somewhere.

So why should you go see this film, and open up those old wounds?

Because it’s a damned good movie. It crackles with suspense, splendid, sometime brilliant performances. Cate Blanchett, arguably the screen’s greatest living actress, gives us a full blown Mary Mapes, maybe altogether not exactly like the real Mapes, but good enough to keep your mouth hanging open for two hours.

We see the daughter of an abusive drunk, who was a fire-breathing journalist with buckets of charm and charisma and a ferocious appetite for fame. Not since Faye Dunaway’s producer in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 “Network” have we seen a dragon lady with as much fire in her mouth.

The scene in her apartment backyard, while on the phone begging her father for help, should keep all the other nominees this year awake at night.

The blonde movie star, Robert Redford, seems to be a curious choice to play Dan Rather, but he keeps low key, doesn’t try the Texan accent, and by the end, we accept it.

Dennis Quaid as Lt. Colonel Roger Charles is good enough, but Topher Grace, as a freelance journalist, eager to get on the fame train, has one electric scene and ignites his career.

And there is Elisabeth Moss, fresh from “Mad Men,” without much here to do, but doing it with grace. James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Zodiac”) directed with power, and deftly wrote the screenplay from Mapes’ own book.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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