The most effective scene in James Vanderbilt's brisk, outraged Truth is one that will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat in a room where editors and reporters are breaking down an investigative story. The reporters -- here, 60 Minutes researchers played by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, and Topher Grace -- lay out what they know and what they suspect. In this case: that a young George W. Bush pulled son-of-privilege strings to duck Vietnam for National Guard pilot training he wasn't an ideal candidate for, and that even then the president-to-be didn't much bother with showing up, at one point knocking off for months to join a political campaign.
Getting everyone to prove what they know? That's the job of the editor, in this case Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), the 60 Minutes producer and Dan Rather–wrangler. The scene, set in the election year of 2004, is tense and exciting, full of the pleasures of watching a team learn to work together and attack problems, the dread of knowing how they will fail, and the what-if momentousness of how history might have worked out differently.
Vanderbilt, the screenwriter of Zodiac, here making his debut as a director, masters the heady pulse of high-end, high-stakes journalism. We witness, in quick but painful detail, the small mistakes and somewhat understandable bad calls that led CBS to air possibly forged National Guard memos as authentic. But the collapse of Mapes's reporting is slow and painful, leading to her firing and Rather's ouster, even as the truth of the full story is never really questioned. In the back half, Vanderbilt resorts to too much speechifying and, for Mapes, an embarrassing and reductive psychological backstory.