Movie review of “Truth”: Cate Blanchett’s expressive face is the best thing about this film, which follows the controversy that erupted after “60 Minutes” reported a segment about George W. Bush’s National Guard service. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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“Don’t fight,” a lawyer warns news producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), on her way into a hearing. She pauses, her mercurial face twisting into incredulity and then straightening back again, repeating the words; you sense that it took Mapes a second or two to grasp that she was being asked, essentially, not to be herself — and was trying, as best she could, to comply.

This moment, which comes late in the fact-based drama “Truth,” is one of many in Blanchett’s performance that just stops you cold; there’s always a movie-within-the-movie playing on her face. And in this case, unfortunately, it’s much more compelling than the larger movie it’s actually in.

“Truth,” written and directed by James Vanderbilt (based on Mapes’ memoir) is a behind-the-scenes tale of what happened at “60 Minutes” in 2004, when a team led by Mapes reported a controversial story about George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard. The politically charged segment was immediately questioned and challenged, and the resulting scandal ended the television network careers of Mapes and Dan Rather (a folksy Robert Redford).

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Truth,’ with Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach. Written and directed by James Vanderbilt, based on the book “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power” by Mary Mapes. 121 minutes. Rated R for language and a brief nude photo. Several theaters.

It’s a fascinating tale, and a frustrating one — the real questions raised by the report became lost in a swirl of minutia and politics. But, in Vanderbilt’s version, you doubt the story from the beginning; the journalism is depicted as sloppy and rushed, and the filmmaking too often resorts to schmaltzy music, Hollywood-ish staging (the conference room for the hearings looks like it borrowed its lighting design from “Fifty Shades of Grey”) and sluggish pace.

But “Truth” is nonetheless mesmerizing, entirely because of Blanchett; this is one of those movie-star performances in which every detail, every gesture feels right. Blanchett’s Mary is whip-smart, a little dramatic, haunted by her past (about which we gradually learn more, particularly in a brief, electric phone call), breezily elegant and always a fighter; just try to take your eyes off her. It can’t be a coincidence — can it? — that behind her, in a scene at Mary’s home, we glimpse a copy of “Me,” the memoir by Katharine Hepburn: Blanchett’s first Oscar-winning role. The late Kate would surely approve.