For the sake of this particular movie column let’s just consider the media types of news personalities, journalists and reporters as interchangeable. With that in mind Newsmakers and Media Shakers: Top Ten Reporters in the Movies will look at some of cinema’s top inquirers in the name of getting down to the nitty-gritty in bringing the truth to the forefront.
The movies have intensely, if not sometimes comically, showcased those characters that felt justified in reporting their newsworthy findings in the name of riveting entertainment. Whether spotlighting real-life newsmaker and shakers such as legendary luminaries in Edward R. Murrow to Watergate busters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein or profiling parodies of probing journalists as Natural Born Killer’s Wayne Gale it has been a trippy ride in witnessing cinematic reporters and their excitable exploits.
Perhaps Newmakers and Media Shakers: Top Ten Reporters in the Movies will be irresponsibly in its duties to mention some of the more obvious choices to represent this theme such as Anchorman’s mainstays Ron Burgandy and Veronica Corningstone or even David Frost from Frost/Nixon? Whoops…Superman’s Clark Kent comes to mind as well.Again, the inclusions are subjective but anyone is invited to suggest whom they feel are top-notch reporting renegades on the big screen. In any event, many will be satisfied for the top ten mentioned shakers of news hounds and other informational go-getters in print and other media.
The selections for Newsmakers and Media Shakers: Top Ten Reporters in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):
1.) Howard Beale from Network (1976)
REPORTING THE FACTS: What newsroom professional (particularly ones of the middle-aged persuasion) cannot relate to the restrictive television network politics and the insensitivity of the misguided direction that very same television network took? Well, veteran news anchor Howard Beale (the late Peter Finch in his posthumous Oscar-winning role) is the poster boy for on-air frustration and frenzy (remember his signature “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore” broadcast tirade?). The UBS Television Network has other radical and opportunistic ideas for boosting their ratings in an event to make the news “more sexier” for profit. But the aging Beale does not figure into their progressive plans to juice up their viewership and gets axed. However, the raging Beale will demonstrate his media madness before the sympathizing TV audience and rail against the corporate cretins looking to cast him as a ratings relic. Ironically, Beale’s spastic spectacle at the anchor’s desk is the exact jolt that his scheming news executive bosses loved to exploit with perverse pleasure. Finch’s bombastic Beale and the behind-the-scenes shady shenanigans of major news network programming made celebrated cynicism in the corporate world of television so intoxicating in Sidney Lumet-directed, Paddy Chayefsky-written brilliant Network.
2.) Wayne Gale from Natural Born Killers (1994)
REPORTING THE FACTS: Filmmaker Oliver Stone’s frantic creation of exploitative TV journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) definitely fit in the mad and macabre universe of the manic Natural Born Killers. Gale was the hyperactive tour guide that wanted to take his TV audience on the twisted journey as he pursued and rubbed bloody shoulders with notorious killing lovebirds Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis). Wayne Gale was part of the over-the-top insanity that Stone shrewdly correlated with the societal violence and how the probing media world played a critical part in reinforcing such media-related monstrosities. The brilliance of Downey Jr.’s Gale is that he was spoofing such shock-stirring news masterminds such as Geraldo Rivera willing to obtain a sensational expose of tragedy at any price. Consequently, Natural Born Killers fans witnessed in the long run how Wayne Gale paid heavily for his exaggerated out-on-the-limb scoop in colorfully promoting the murderous Mickey and Mallory as “the fearful flavor of-the-month” corrosive couple. Much like water and oil it seemed that murder-making and gimmicky media-reporting just does not mix. Just ask the late animated Wayne Gale.
3.) Tom Grunick and Aaron Altman from Broadcast News (1987)
REPORTING THE FACTS: Broadcast News took an exhilarating insight into the realm of…eh, broadcast news. Much like Network from a decade earlier James L. Brooks’s newsroom narrative sported an eagle eye at the inner workings of television news networking from the inter-weaving politics to ratings-grabbing expectations. But Broadcast News took a daring step closer to the quiet adversarial and complicated romanticism at the broadcasting workplace. Newsmen Tom Grunick (William Hurt) and Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) were competitors in front of the camera and also for the affections of their cute and capable TV-producing superior Jane Craig (Holly Hunter). Grunick is the polished pretty boy anchor being pushed because of his attractive “look” despite his undiscovered incompetence and tricky tactics. Altman is the average-looking self-deprecating news reporter with visions of sitting at that all-important news desk that the privileged Grunick currently occupies. Grunick is blessed with having Jane’s professional and personal attentive loving in the bedroom. Altman yearns to even plant a kiss on Jane’s cheek that is reserved for his rival Grunick. The fast-paced news stories, stressful TV network demands, creative deception and a giddy triangle love affair all make for a blistering comic/serious recipe in Brooks’s perceptive Broadcast News.
4.) Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns from The Front Page (1974)
REPORTING THE FACTS: One cannot go wrong when meshing the revered director Billy Wilder’s rousing filmmaking vision with the explosive on-screen antics of one of cinema’s treasured tandem in Oscar-winners Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. In The Front Page, we find 1920’s-era top Chicago newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Lemmon) wanting to quit his print job and settle into family life. However, Hildy’s conniving editor Walter Burns (Matthau) has other ideas about losing his ace reporter. The timing is terrible because Hildy is needed to cover the top story regarding murderer Earl Williams’s upcoming execution. Walter is short-staffed and wants his talented reporter Hildy to write the story that could increase the paper’s readership. Wacky, witty and wicked, Wilder’s The Front Page is one printed page worth reading and reporting on because the nutty newspapermen in Lemmon’s Hildy Johnson and Matthau’s Walter Burns are an inspired odd coupling (no pun intended) to ever covet the nostalgic printing presses.
5.) Lois Lane from Superman (1978)
REPORTING THE FACTS: She’s pretty. She’s pushy. She’s dysfunctional. She’s determined. More important, she is the Man of Steel’s main squeeze and ardent admirer. The Daily Planet’s curvaceous and combative Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is the newspaper reporter with reckless gusto. Whether nearly getting killed in an Eiffel Tower elevator shaft in Paris or throwing herself into a gushing and dangerous water stream in upstate New York to prove her theory behind her beloved Superman’s secret identity Lois is an uncontrollable hoot but certainly is at the best of what she does in covering her pulsating stories. The only obstacle that our Ms. Lane cannot overcome is her urge to permanently secure the affection of her mighty costumed cad Superman. For Lois, belonging to her superhero studmuffin is the greatest expectation ever besides winning a Pulitzer Prize for her efficient print reporting. However, Lois Lane is smart enough to recognize that her caped Casanova unselfishly belongs to the whole world. One could never seriously consider Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent as the top reporter over co-worker Lois Lane because his affectionate concentration (besides saving the world on a daily basis) is on the feisty feminine pen-pusher…a ballsy woman whose blood is composed of the cherished newspaper ink that she bleeds so compassionately over.
6.) Edward R. Murrow from Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
REPORTING THE FACTS: Oscar-winning writer-director George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was a stirring drama documenting the challenging and confrontational CBS-TV broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (Oscar-nominated David Strathaim) in his sincere attempts to expose the divisive agenda of Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy. Murrow objected to McCarthy’s televised tactics to wave the paranoid pressures of Communist corruption infiltrating the fabric of American sensibilities in the early 1950’s. And so Murrow, along with his supportive TV producer Fred W. Friendly (George Clooney), stood by his convictions to take down the garrulous U.S. senator and his exploitative rhetoric that caused an understandable panic in the nation that led to some notable blackballing and destruction of careers and lives especially within the entertainment industry. Strathaim’s Murrow was stoic, disciplined, sharp and observational. Good Night, and Good Luck captured that intense feeling of distrust and disdain in a throwback footnote of an era bombarded by misguided political agendas and a television newsman brave enough to take a stand and rectify the increasing skepticism that persisted in the minds of a growing nervous nation.
7.) Selena St. George from Delores Claiborne (1995)
REPORTING THE FACTS: Delores Claiborne’s Selena St. George (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a big-time magazine reporter from New York. She has covered some of the top news-making politicians and showbiz celebrities in her career. Selena never wants to look back to her tortured past as a conflicted child. Well, she has no choice but to look back to her tortured childhood when her irascible working-class maid mother Delores Claiborne (Misery Oscar-winner Kathy Bates) is accused of murdering her emotionally-hardened wealthy employer Vera Donovan. So Selena reluctantly goes back to her Maine roots and tries to protect her estranged stubborn mother from a murder charge and the enthusiastic Detective John Mackey (Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer from Beginnings) that wants to nail the defiant Delores. Talented reporter Selena St. George must face the suppressed childhood molestation memories committed by her abusive drunken fisherman father Joe (David Strathaim) that she holds Delores accountable for her psychological damage. Leigh’s sullen and detached reporter skillfully matches the weary disillusionment of Bates’s cantankerous Delores Claiborne.
8.) Philip Schuyler Green from Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947)
REPORTING THE FACTS: Director Elia Kazan’s raw and revealing melodrama Gentlemen’s Agreement told the compelling tale about journalist Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) posing as an undercover Jew in order to closely observe and report on the overt antisemitism so prevalent in New York City as well as in the posh Connecticut community of Darien. Journalist Green’s discoveries about the overwhelming (and subtle) biases against the Jewish community are quite disturbing. The eye-opening prejudices and realities of discrimination causes Green immense pockets of disgust and disgrace in his research work that proves to be too much to handle mentally. Peck is superb as the reporting agent trying to get a grasp on the cultural and religious indignities of the ignorant in urban business and suburban high society.
9.) Kimberly Wells from The China Syndrome (1979)
REPORTING THE FACTS: In one of two-time Oscar-winning Jane Fonda’s underrated film roles in The China Syndrome she portrays TV news reporter Kimberly Wells investigating potential scandals and cover-ups at a California-based nuclear power plant that may not be all that safe and sound for the surrounding region. With her devoted cameraman (Michael Douglas) at her side Wells must connect with and convince the nuclear plant’s engineer Jack Godell (Jack Lemon) to come clean about his secretive employer’s questionable safety practices before his superiors quiet him permanently. Fonda’s womanly warrior shines so subversively in this compelling social-oriented drama of mind-over-matter societal ethics.
10.) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from All The Presidents Men (1976)
REPORTING THE FACTS: The real-life Washington DC-based scandalous presidential soap opera got the big screen treatment in Alan J. Paluka’s riveting expose All The President’s Men headed up by the star power duo Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as political-busting Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein asked by their editor to follow up on the Democratic National Party break-in at the Watergate Hotel headquarters. Soon Woodward and Bernstein’s relentless reporting and involved investigation would lead to bringing down President Richard M. Nixon’s Republican administration (not to mention Nixon’s resignation). All The President’s Men just solidified all the behind-the-White House walls hotbed naughtiness that transpired under the noses of the unsuspecting American public.
William Miller (Patrick Fugit) from Almost Famous (2000)