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Stop The Presses: The 13 Best Newsroom Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 12, 2010 at 6:00AM

Just as soldiers devour war movies and cops are always the first to pipe up about the latest police thriller, journalists have a soft spot for films focusing on the fourth estate. At their most positive, they can show the kind of crusading, truth-seeking journalists that the embittered hacks wanted to be when they started out (as Aaron Sorkin recently said, "'All The President's Men' made journalists want to be rockstars"), and at their most negative, they provide a certain catharsis.
3

“All The President’s Men” (1976)
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when a newspaper could change history, when the printed word carried with it the weight of irrevocable truth and a couple of dogged reporters, through sheer persistence and the application of a little intelligence, could bring down a government. The Watergate affair and the fall of Nixon is truly one of the defining stories of the modern era, and in this, Alan J. Pakula’s finest hour, (though we do love "Klute" and are not averse to a little "The Parallax View" either) it gets the movie it deserves: talky, smart and never less than completely absorbing. It could so easily have been terrible -- there’s no real action, no sex, no particular life-or-limb peril, and for anyone not paying close attention, the blizzard of names, dates and other minutiae on which the whole thing turns, could have proven a chore to navigate. A good thing then, that it’s practically impossible not to pay full attention -- credit is due to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman for their committed performances as reporters Woodward and Bernstein (how many journalists since have chosen their career based on these portrayals?), but surely, the lion’s share of kudos must go to the unparalleled screenwriting of William Goldman, and the taut, inspired direction by Pakula. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a working newsroom that, just for a moment, became pretty much the center of the universe and a thrilling and very American example of how, armed with nothing but integrity, faith in public justice and a typewriter, a few good men can literally make all the difference in the world. [A+]

“Broadcast News” (1987)
A romantic comedy for the smart and cynical, James L. Brooks’s “Broadcast News” somehow seems even more relevant today than it was in 1987. Holly Hunter’s news producer Jane Craig laments fluff-as-news, but what would she think about the 24-hour-news cycle and editorials disguised as news in 2010? She’s a Sorkin-esque heroine, who succeeds in her professional life while her relationships are an inversely proportional mess. Jane falls for the handsome but brainless anchor-in-training Tom Grunick (William Hurt), while her longtime friend Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) pines away. Tom might have all the looks, but Aaron gets all the lines, and the scenes where he confesses his love and condemns his rival have some of the best dialogue this side of the stage -- it's almost Chekhovian in its heartbreaking quality. The characters in "Broadcast News” aren’t afraid to be downright mean, but they’re never anything less than watchable and likable thanks to their flaws, and all three actors, particularly the magnificent Hunter, give career-best performances. And the ending, still a bitter pill to swallow for some, is truthful in a way that's hard to find in rom-coms these days. [A-]

“Good Night and Good Luck" (2005)
Truth can be stranger than fiction, which is why director George Clooney opted for archive footage of Senator Joseph McCarthy to serve as the boogeyman for this historical drama, which recounts journalist Edward R. Murrow standing up against the bullying from the House of Unamerican Activities Committee. David Strathairn gives a powerful performance as the driven Murrow, who understood that the truth was more powerful than any weapon against what was a leviathan of mistruth in the movement to witch-hunt perceived Communism. Coming from a television background, Clooney utilized several in-camera effects to illustrate the power dynamics and socialization of the broadcast news operations of an earlier era, creating a masterpiece that works even better as a teaching tool to help the youth of tomorrow better understand how we still seem to fall prey to the same scare tactics of yesterday. [A]

“His Girl Friday” (1940)
Much attention has (rightfully) been paid to the whiplash-inducing dialogue and the fizzy chemistry between leads Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in this classic film from Howard Hawks. Breezing past the page-a-minute average of most screenplays, “His Girl Friday” is based on Ben Hecht’s stage play “The Front Page.” The adaptation, by Charles Lederer, got an injection of energy from switching the two main characters from a pair of male journalists to feuding exes, particularly since those exes are played by Grant and Russell, a pairing that matches Grant's work with both Hepburns and Irene Dunne for sheer fire. The romance is as fast-paced as the dialogue, but viewers shouldn’t overlook the contributions of the other room of journalists in the film who add character and a bit of authenticity. Though some of it feels decidedly dated (remember when newspapers mattered?), it manages to be as fresh and funny as it was 70 years ago. [A]

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Morning Glory, Rachel McAdams


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