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« A Spoonful of Annie? Perhaps... | Main | HBO’s LGBT History: Middle Sexes (2005) »
Wednesday
Sep162015

TIFF: Journalists at War. "Truth" vs "Spotlight"

On the first day of TIFF last Thursday I saw four consecutive movies from different countries and of different tones entirely that all had a surprise pregnancy reveal scene/shot during their stories. Festivals are funny like that providing you with unexpected throughlines. But sometimes you fully expect the comparisons, if not a schedule that has you watching two similar movies back-to-back. That happened to me with James Vanderbilt's Truth and Thomas McCarthy's Spotlight. Both are journalism pictures with A list casts and both will be gunning for awards honors at year's end. Spotlight is better positioned already with stronger reviews but Truth definitely has its pleasures. While watching them Truth felt more popcorn entertaining but Spotlight is stickier, staying with you afterwards.

Truth vs. Spotlight in 8 categories after the jump...

So let's be crass and just compare them in every way which will be quicker (and hopefully more entertaining) than two regular reviews. And time is tight at festivals, my friends.

STORIES / SCREENPLAY / CONFLICT
Truth is about the disastrous Mary Mapes/Dan Rather 60 minutes expose on President George Bush's highly suspicious military activity to avoid serving in Vietnam in his youth. Spotlight covers the titular team at The Boston Globe as they expose the Catholic Church's systemic cover-up of child sex abuse cases. Vanderbilt, who is making his directorial debut with Truth, wrote the screenplay to Zodiac (2007) so he knows from lost threads, dead ends, and setbacks and Truth is chalk full of juicy conflicts, questioned agendas, and ethical quandaries but because it's so politically and ethically fraught, the takeaway can sometimes feel muddy. Spotlight is far more straightforward with its procedural but there's also much less conflict. There are obstacles, of course, but they're more inferrred. Mostly it's a slow pile of wins that add up to a moral/journalistic triumph.
Winner: Truth... but it was a hard fought win. And I nearly gave it to Spotlight because Truth has an  obnoxious interest in giving itself it's own "Argo Fuck Yourself" type of catchphrase. On the other hand the conflicts are so juicy. Still both films are winners in this regard and a fascinating dark mirror double feature because Truth is about journalistic short cuts, deadlines, and failure whereas Spotlight is all about the long-game fact checking, patience and triumph.

STAR MOJO
There's really no contest here. Michael Keaton, the boss of the Spotlight team, is Oscar worthy again but he's great specifically because he's quiet and measured and watchful in an ensemble film (and does a neat Boston accent). Cate Blanchett, as previously noted, is just on fire as a Movie Star now (after years being a Fine Actress Who Starred in Movies and yes there's a big difference) and totally entertaining. Plus Robert Redford provides enduring Old School star mojo to back her up.
Winner: Truth, no contest. 

BEST ENSEMBLE 
Both of these films have crackerjack ensembles. Even the day players in both films are marvelous.
Winner: Spotlight, because it gives all of its players good scenes. Over in Truth it's the Cate Blanchett Show. Not that Blanchett doesn't put on a great show (Elisabeth Moss, for example, has virtually nothing to do but be likeable and help with exposition by asking lots of questions of her team but she has a totally endearing farewell shot)

IS IT CINEMATIC?
Procedurals as a genre can often feel drab and checklisty unless they're really fired up with confidence and great acting despite all the exposition. Spotlight is very basic filmmaking in this regard trusting in the actors and dialogue to sell every scene. It could just as easily be a stage play.
Winner: Truth.  There is some lovely camerawork here by Mandy Walker (Australia), one shot of Cate Blanchett power shame-walking across a field of screens with Robert Redford's huge face on them was exceptional. Have you ever seen a walk of shame (no, no that kind) performed as a power strut?

ORIGINAL SCORE
Oscar winner Howard Shore composed Spotlight's score and Brian Tyler, who has been providing appropriately bombastic scores for Marvel Studios of late, does the duties for Truth.
Winner: Spotlight. Shore's score is low key and mostly piano (if I recall correctly) but beautifully attuned to the hard work persistence of a very troubling subject matter with smart dischordant notes. Tyler on the other hand is encouraged to go full bombast again, and the sound mixing agrees, which works against the complexity of his movie.

AMBITIOUSNESS
Winner: Truth.  There's just a lot more going on and more complex questions being asked even if it all gets a little muddy at times as to what it's asking of us and what it's arguing for. That said, nailing what you're attempting is very important even if it's less difficult and in that regard Spotlight is your clear champion.

ENDINGS
Winner: Spotlight. It's not a spoiler to tell you that Truth ends with failure and Spotlight ends with success. These are famous true stories after all. Success is definitely an easier takeaway but the text on screen to end Spotlight (that information drop nearly all true stories utilize) complicates the catharsis by providing sober reflection. And the last slow zoom out shot of the team in their work space is utter perfection. I've already forgotten the exact ending of Truth. Which is more of a reflection on being at a festival and seeing multiple movies than its ending. But still...

FINAL GRADES 
Leaning B+ for Spotlight (winner) and B for Truth but go see both when they open in October!

What else do you want to know?

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Reader Comments (14)

I know i mentioned this yesterday, but if Keaton goes supporting I could actually see him win. They love to give veterans awards in the supporting category.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Is Cate better here than in "Blue Jasmine"?

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGolden

Best Supporting Mustache goes to Billy Crudup.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Gawd, N, great write-up. I can't wait for these films. Huge fan of journalism-centric movies, like Network, All the President's Men, Wag the Dog, Good Night and Good Luck. Been binge-watching The Newsroom (finally!) so totally in the headspace for these two. Was that Dennis Quaid in Truth?

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Where do I stand on the Star Mojo v Fine Acting debate on close choices? Well, I hand Bruce Campbell my personal Lead Actor win over Liam Neeson in 1993.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

What about Spotlight stays with you afterward? The moral clarity of the topic and the lack of obvious conflict (noted above) has made me apprehensive about this since I first heard about it.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercadaverousmutha

I really want to see both. I thought Truth was going to be a bore. I'm glad to be wrong.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Pam -- yes it's Dennis Quaid in Truth and it's great to see him again.

Golden -- Cate will probably never again be as good as she was in Blue Jasmine because how could anyone top that?

San Fran -- i L-O-V-E-D Crudup in Spotlight. Morally compromised, two-faced and so gorgeous and has a great final scene.

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Is Cate better in Truth than Carol?? If Cate is goin Oscar campaign as lead for Truth, maybe the studio shld just promote Mara as lead for Carol, so both have a good chance of nom in Best Actress

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Just googled & saw the latest update: http://deadline.com/2015/09/oscars-weinstein-campaign-carol-cate-blanchett-lead-actress-1201528521/

Weinstein is goin to campaign Cate as lead in Carol, so she had two big juicy Oscar baity roles coming out in Oct & Nov respectively. lets keep our fingers x she dun crossed herself out

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Nat - that was I thought but then I kept reading reviews that mentioned she was even better here than she was in "Blue Jasmine".

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGolden

Topher Grace?? I've been waiting for his grand return. Where did he go? I still think his performance in That 70's Show is hugely underrated. He had real, deep moments of magic tucked away in the pitch perfect comedy.

Is he in much of the film, those who have seen it?

September 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

Both these films sound seductive. I love the casting of Redford--I hear echoes of All the President's Men.

September 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

David S -- sorry i'm answering this question so late. you're probably not going to see this comment. He is in it quite a lot. He has a good part.

September 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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