The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Broadcast News

Here in 2013, we have something called the 24-hour news cycle. If something major happens, it is reported in minutes (sometimes seconds) and channels like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and countless others keep on reporting until something new comes up. Kinda terrifying in a way, don't you think? How do they do it? How do they manage it? Well, it may seem a little dated now 26 years later, but 1987's Broadcast News gives quite the look into the world of television news.

Working for a major news outlet's Washington bureau, Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is an up and coming producer working behind the scenes. She's knowledgeable about an endless line of subjects and when it comes to working on deadline under pressure, there are few that can top her ability. Jane is close with one of her reporters, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a similarly very intelligent field reporter, the two forming quite the news team and friendship beyond the news. They both worry about the future of the business, focus turning more to looks, pandering and emotion over news, especially when the news outlet hires Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a young, handsome anchor who's good at what he does but without the education, the background, the desire to tell the news. Basically....he's nice to look at. Jane starts to worry about herself having met Tom. She likes him, is drawn to him, but will she stand by her morals and beliefs or what she thinks she wants?

Written and directed by James L. Brooks, 'News' still resonates now in 2013 for anyone who's ever watched a nightly news broadcast, a breaking news story or even just wondered how it all comes together. It is smart, well-written and well-acted, a rare blend of drama and comedy (of the romantic variety too....uh-oh!). Voted by the American Film Institute as one of the funniest 100 movies of all time -- coming in at No. 64 -- the best aspect of 'News' is Brooks' script. It covers a lot of ground in its 133 minutes, and audiences ate it up, not to mention during the awards season when it picked up seven different Oscar nominations (including all 3 starring roles, best director, best picture) although it didn't win a single one. I thought Brooks especially deserved an Oscar win, but that's just me. Any-hoo, here we go....

It is rare to see a movie with characters who are both sympathetic, believable and unlikable all at the same time. That's life, huh? None of us are perfect, but we rarely see that in films as scripts call for very broad strokes to bring characters to life. A bad guy is a bad guy, a good guy is a good guy. It's pretty black and white. Not the case here. Hunter, Brooks and Hurt do phenomenal jobs bringing these characters to life. At different points you do like each of them, hate/dislike each of them, and root for each of them. Hunter's Jane wants to stand by her beliefs, but she's also a woman and wants to be seen as sexy too. Hurt's Tom wants to be good at what he does, but he's got some other issues he's working with too. Brooks' Aaron wants the fame and respect, but he wants to earn it the right way. He doesn't want any favors done for him. He's going to make it to the top his way.

Now here comes the issue I had. No, it's not a dealbreaker although it did threaten to bring the movie down a notch or two. Great characters, really well thought out script, and it resorts to.....a love triangle? Is there a lazier approach in a romantic comedy available to a scriptwriter than a love triangle? It makes it all seem so trivial. Oh no! Jane has an epic crush on the very handsome but all style and no substance Tom? Oh no! She also likes Aaron because he's good at what he does and is her neurotic, intelligent equal? Oh, the horror! In a movie that delves into the world of television news and does it so well, the script resorts to a love triangle? Because we like the characters, it's a tolerable plot device, but I resented its use just the same. To Brooks' credit, he doesn't wrap it up in tidy fashion with a bow. The final scenes feature a few reveals that show everything doesn't end up the way you think it would.

Those three performances dominate the screentime, but watch out for some good supporting parts. Jack Nicholson is buried down in the cast listing for his smaller part as Bill Rorisch, the legendary nightly news anchor who everyone at the bureau respects and idolizes. Robert Prosky, Joan Cusack, Lois Chiles, Christian Clemenson and Peter Hackes all star as different personalities around the bureau, studios and bullpen.    

As good as the characters are, the most memorable parts of 'News' are the set pieces. We see Jane and Aaron out in the field, working in the studio to get a piece done under a ridiculous deadline so the national news can air it, the in-office tension over how a package lands. The best part though is obvious, a breaking news story in Europe about an American base being attacked. Rushing to report the news, Tom is sent to the anchor desk, Jane in his ear guiding him through it, and a disappointed Aaron still helping out from home. It's a great look into the inner workings of the business in all its adrenaline, chaos and up-to-the-minute developments. It's a really good movie that I think could have been a great movie. Still, I liked it a lot, mostly for the 3-D characters who actually behave and act like human beings. Go figure.

Broadcast News (1987): ***/****


  1. this one gets four solid stars fo rme.

  2. I really liked it too, James, just couldn't get over the love triangle angle. Thankfully, the payoff was worth it.