Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Men Who Read The News

Robert here, catching up with the news that the great Walter Cronkite passed away. Sad news indeed, but it got me thinking about how that fabled job of T.V. newsman has been portrayed in cinema through the years.

Award Season of 2005 was all about Brokeback Mountain vs. Crash and the Best Actor races pitted Heath Ledger against Philip Seymour Hoffman. Lost in the fray was epically dependable character actor David Strathairn. In fact, one might say despite being the star of the film he was overshadowed by his director. When does that happen? Well, when the director is George Clooney I suppose.

Go ahead and say that Ferrell's schtick has gotten old. I won't argue. But Anchorman saw him at the height of his powers. Even my most snob-tastic friends can't help but throw down a quote or reference every once in a while. People may disagree on Ferrell but we can all agree that local news was a subject ripe for lampooning.

William Hurt as Tom Grunick and Albert Brooks as Aaron Altman in Broadcast News
What makes James L. Brooks' smart comedy about two men's ambitions for the news and the same woman so smart are the performances by Hurt and Brooks which avoid an easy good/evil dichotomy and show us the contrast between ethical ambiguity and well-meaning, sweaty genuineness.

Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace in The Insider
No one at 60 Minutes could have been happy when a movie was made about their biggest bungle, but word is, Mike Wallace was particularly infuriated that Christopher Plummer played him as a tough though somewhat self involved reporter who, when the chips are down, ultimately makes the wrong choice. But Plummer actually gives the man genuine dimensions which are hard to notice on the first viewing. Despite massive critical acclaim, he failed to land an Oscar nomination... talk about big bungles.

Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network
Everyone talks about how Network has predicted the current state of television news. But Howard Beale would be out of place among the multitude of modern talking heads, all hopelessly attempting to express the common rage since the sincerity that Finch brings to the role far surpasses the current state of TV news outrage. When he's mad as hell we believe him. We are too. This mad prophet of the airwaves is the real deal, and Finch won a well-deserved Oscar for his legendary performance.


Wayne B said...

This made me think of an anchor-wannabe, the devious Suzanne Stone from "To Die For." It's Kidman's best 90s performance. :)


omg. yes. Suzanne is a great addition to this list... although she's not a man.

I love Strathairn's performance more than I can say. I think about it scarily often.

I've only ever seen The Insider once. Should probably revisit because beyond how much Crowe wowed me (and still only his second best performance... maybe... he's so great in LA Confidential)

hepwa said...

"The Insider" is easily one of the best films to the past twenty years and Christopher Plummer was so good I gasped a couple times. I show scenes to my acting students so they can see that an absence of sound does not mean the absence of meaning.