(On Cable TV, July 2017) In many ways, Truth is a tough movie to watch. Whereas other movies will eulogize journalists as fearless truth seekers whose work helps change the world, this 2015 film uses the 2004 Killian documents controversy to deliver a story uniquely suited to 2017’s sadly post-truth era. It’s about journalists doing their best to report explosive documents on a presidential candidate … and then being unable to defend themselves against accusations of biased reporting. Based on journalist Mary Mapes’s memoir of the events, Truth is a stomach-churning docudrama about the nitty-gritty of reporting in a politically charged environment and how truth itself can be elusive despite everyone’s best efforts. Led by the always-excellent Cate Blanchett as Mapes and Robert Redford as a convincing Dan Rather, Truth takes us behind the scenes of TV investigative journalism in all of its quirks in marrying reporting with TV presentations. Alongside them, Topher Grace delivers one of his most animated performances, while Bruce Greenwood, Elizabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid have valuable input in smaller roles. It’s often absorbing viewing, but don’t expect an All the President’s Men triumphant finale here as much of the film’s second half is spent dealing with allegations of partisanship, and the ending offers little certitude in who was right. As 2017 unfolds alongside a misleading chorus of “fake news” allegations, Truth takes on a particularly bittersweet quality for anyone who’d like sanity and reason to come back to the mainstream discourse—it feels like an exposé of the primitive tactics that have since then been weaponized to a virulent degree. But then again, movies don’t owe anyone any comfort.
(On TV, December 2016) I wasn’t looking forward to In Good Company. The premise itself seems made for maximum cringing potential, as a veteran executive in the midst of a downsizing effort is bossed around by a twentysomething careerist who also starts dating his college-aged daughter. It would be reasonable to expect a film maximizing the misery of its lead protagonist. But writer/director Paul Weitz has something more nuanced than a simple humiliation comedy on its mind—in contrasting two different men, the film develops a mentor/mentee relationship, doesn’t make things easy or simple for the wunderkind and gives plenty of redemption moments for the older man. In Good Company isn’t mean or cruel, but gentle and heartfelt, and couldn’t rely on a better anchor than Dennis Quaid (in his lived-in mature persona) to carry the film. Topher Grace isn’t as annoying as expected as the younger man, while Scarlett Johansson is remarkable as the daughter/girlfriend. It’s not much of a film and yet exactly what it wants to be—there’s a limit to how much audiences will like it, but I’d be surprised if it got bad reviews for anything but being a fairly straightforward dramedy. As for me, I had a relatively good time and found In Good Company rather pleasant. Small compliments, but I have the feeling that this is what this low-key film was going for.