Monday, February 29, 2016

My Three Best Movies about Journalism

Last week, I finally watched Spotlight, the movie about the Boston Globe journalists who wrote about the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal and cover-up in Boston. I remember reading those articles back in 2002, and I worried about how the subject matter would be tackled in a film. After I finished it, I realized I now could add it to my short list of best movies about journalism.

"All the President's Men" (1976). I blogged about this movie in 2003, but I have certainly watched it again since then. The power of journalism to keep a presidency in check is on full display here. Also on display was the doggedness of journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Berstein (Dustin Hoffman). I love watching this film, a classic 70s movie. Possibly my favorite part is seeing Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) in his tux with the draft of an article in his hand, saying "run that baby!" to Woodward and Bernstein.

"The Insider" (1999). The headline actor is Al Pacino, who plays 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman. It's fascinating to watch Mr. Bergman juggle multiple stories, and fight his management at 60 Minutes. The star is Russell Crowe, however. His performance as a big tobacco scientist-turned-whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand is mesmerizing. I also think this is Michael Mann's best movie, his lush style amplifying the stakes. Super movie.

"Spotlight" (2015). In the movie, we see how the reporters put together the list of priests who were abusing children. The four of them each took several directories of Massachusetts priests, and cross-referenced all the names against certain key words that suggested a reassignment due to abuse. Set to music, in montage style with fast cuts, it is easy to see how tedious work ultimately produces an important result. I loved how movie made such details captivating. I was glad Spotlight won the 2015 Best Picture Oscar!

Honorable mentions:

"Kill the Messenger" (2014). Jeremy Renner portrays journalist Gary Webb. Gary begins to uncover a conspiracy between the CIA using illegal drugs to raise funds for the contras of Nicaragua. As with the Insider and All the President's Men, there are scenes in court houses, clandestine meetings with nefarious people, and a sense of foreboding and dread.

"State of Play" (2009). This is a fictional movie, but it deserves a mention. The movie stars Russell Crowe as a print journalist and Rachel McAdams (from Spotlight) as a web journalist. The movie, more than the others, tried to address the difference between old and new journalism. The movie is based on the "State of Play" TV mini-series (2003) from the BBC.