Film Review: Truth


A fascinating media story gets big screen treatment in James Vanderbilt’s Truth. The film itself is a little overblown to be truly great.

In 2004, producer Mary Mapes and her team set about researching George W. Bush’s military service for a 60 Minutes report. The team attempt to verify sources for their story, unaware of the storm of criticism that will follow…

Based on Mary Mapes’ book, Truth tells story of 60 Minute report for CBS that was heavily scrutinised for documents it used. The film focuses on the small team behind the report as the pull the CBS programme together, then the subsequent backlash after it airs. Whilst the events took place in 2004 and the furore may be remembered by some, few viewers will be aware of the full extent of the case.

Truth speaks more broadly on the nature of new media, through the microcosm of one particular story. This wider perspective has not lost its relevance; the film talks as much about contemporary news. Director and writer James Vanderbilt discusses television news and its bias, and highlights the background to the decisions that are made. The subject of the film is undoubtedly thought provoking.

Vanderbilt’s film falters in its over egging of the material. Truth takes a newsroom drama and fabricates a melodrama in the director’s hands. The film’s score is really ill-fitting, coercing audience to feel emotion in situations where it is not present. Likewise, the slow-motion sequences in depicting people viewing original documentary on television and at the end of the film felt unnecessary. Some of Truth‘s dialogue feels hokey, Dan Rather’s soundbites in particular. Furthermore, some of the exposition seems unnecessary and comes across as jarring as a result. Nevertheless, Mike Smith’s speech towards the end identifies the problem with news reporting to an amplified degree.

Performances in Truth are good overall, with Cate Blanchett as convincing as ever as Mary Mapes. Robert Redford is well cast as Dan Rather, whilst Topher Grace is given little to do until his speech.

With such an interesting and impactful story, Truth could have been magnificent. It is still very watchable, although the film is soured by a push towards sentimentality.

Truth is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2015.

Film Review: The Big Wedding

The Big Wedding

With its all-star cast, The Big Wedding is a formulaic but sufficiently enjoyable rom-com.

Alejandro and Missy are getting married. Alejandro’s birth mother is very traditional, so he does not tell her his adoptive parents are divorced. With his father Don living with a new partner, Don and his ex-wife Ellie attempt to keep up the charade…

Based on a 2006 French film, The Big Wedding offers a familiar set-up. The film focuses the trials and tribulations of an extended family as they come together for the youngest member’s wedding. The narrative progresses along the expected route.

There is sufficient humour to make The Big Wedding entertaining. The language and the subject of some of the material is more adult than some viewers might expect. However the film does have a 15 rating which compensates for this.

The Big Wedding features numerous scenes with heart-to-heart conversations. Some of these are quite touching. Nonetheless, others do feel like a deliberate attempt to pull at the heartstrings. It is a shame the film demeans itself in this way.

With the whole family featuring in The Big Wedding, there are a number of different strands with each member getting their own story. This could make the film feel cramped, but director and screenwriter Justin Zackham ensures that each plays out in a suitable manner. Some of the strands are more engaging than others. The central narrative with Don, Ellie and Bebe, and Jared’s story are more interesting than Lyla’s strand for example.

Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton are believable as divorced couple Don and Ellie. Susan Sarandon is decent as Bebe, while Topher Grace has good comedy chops as Jared, despite his character being somewhat dubious.

The Big Wedding ticks all the boxes viewers would expect, but does little more than this. The film’s intended audience should be entertained.

Film Review: Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight is a loving homage to eighties teen films. It may not be the smartest or funniest films of the year so far, but it is definitely one of the cutest.

It’s the late 1980s and MIT graduate Matt Franklin is having a life crisis, having given up a well-paid job to work in a video store. When he finds out his high school crush Tori is back in town and attending a Labor Day party that evening. Along with his twin sister Wendy and his recently-fired best friend Barry, Matt attends the party hoping to win the affections of the girl of his dreams…

Take Me Home Tonight is an unpretentious movie that keeps its intentions simple. The movie should be funnier given that it is a comedy. Whilst there is humour to be found, some of the jokes do fall flat. Nevertheless, Take Me Home Tonight works because the central character is lovable and the romantic angle is well executed.

Matt Franklin is given surprising depth, considering the superficial nature of the film. The protagonist is endearing, yet at times frustrating. Matt’s lack of confidence is underscored throughout the movie; some of his exchanges with Tori are truly cringeworthy. Due to this shyness, the film provides the audience with a hero they can really root for. There is a genuine hope that the flawed but affable Matt will get the girl.

Take Me Home Tonight was made a few years ago; it is surprising that it took so long to get released. Perhaps the film was buoyed by the success of last year’s Hot Tub Time Machine, which offered a similar style of 80s nostalgia. Although there are fewer in-jokes, Take Me Home Tonight is an unapologetic homage to teen movies of this decade. The importance of the one social event harks back to films such as Pretty in Pink and Say Anything. The action takes place over the course of a day, reminiscent of others from the John Hughes oeuvre that feature a similarly short time frame, Some Kind of Wonderful and The Breakfast Club for example.

Topher Grace really carries the film with his very genuine portrayal as Matt. Elsewhere, Dan Fogler is makes a fun comedy sidekick as Barry, while Teresa Palmer fulfils her limited brief well as beauty Tori. Anna Faris is slightly less convincing as Cambridge hopeful Wendy.

With its fantastic (and seemingly non-stop) soundtrack of eighties tunes, Take Me Home Tonight is a film for those who revel in nostalgia. It’s almost a film that wonders what has happened to all those John Hughes characters after high school. Not an amazing film, nonetheless Take Me Home Tonight should serve its audience well.

Film Review: Predators

This long-awaited sequel functions as a passable action feature, but one that does not excel to the level of the 1987 original.

A random group of soldiers, hitmen and killers, as well as a doctor, land in a mysterious jungle. It isn’t long before they realise that all is not what it seems, and the hunters become the hunted…

Predators distinguishes itself as a sequel to the first two Predator films, and not a remake. There is scant mention of the goings on of the first two films, however, and the narrative takes place on an alien planet – immediately differentiating itself from the earlier films.

One of the highlights of 1987’s Predator was the way the story was built. The reveal was gradual, and it was a significant way into the film before the creature was actually exposed. This sequel does not follow in the original’s footsteps, thus it lacks the tension and accession of pace that works so well in the 1987 film. Although it could be argued that the audience knows what the predators look like so there is no need for this suspense, the characters in this film don’t, so more could have been made of their first encounter.

The action scenes in Predators function well, and the special effects appear realistic. Nonetheless, the lack of a real plot hampers the film throughout. The climax of the film dwindles, rather than going out with a bang.

Adrien Brody is convincing enough in his role, but there is little character development in this film. Topher Grace’s character is somewhat interesting, but is let down by half-baked exposition towards the end. Elsewhere, Laurence Fishburne makes a memorable entrance, but a pitiful exit.

The action scenes in Predators are solid on the whole, and the film is certainly watchable. Nonetheless, it brings nothing new or interesting to the franchise. If you are looking for a well-executed action sci-fi film, you’re best bet is to stick with the far superior original.