Many films focus on politics and journalism and their inevitable intersections.
Here are seven, in no particular order, to offer insight into today’s political and journalistic skirmishes, and one bonus selection that could shed light (sorry) on a tactic that’s all too common in Washington, D.C., today:
Good Night, and Good Luck. David Strathairn delivers a taut and riveting portrayal of iconic CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow, as he and producer Fred Friendly (director and co-screenwriter George Clooney) take on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the rabid anti-Communist faction in the mid-1950s. The internal politics at CBS convey how insidious McCarthyism was at that time. The vintage footage and black-and-white cinematography meld seamlessly for a “you are there” immediacy.
All the President’s Men. The Washington Post team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) latch on to a “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate in summer 1972 and turn it into the journalistic triumph of the century, leading to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and the indictments and convictions of dozens of conspirators. The leaks from a Justice Department official nicknamed Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) resonate today. Jason Robards, Jack Warden and a host of other A-listers make this one of the best films ever made.
Network. This 1976 milestone satire forecasts the prevalence of the news-as-entertainment genre, as well as predicting the rise of “reality” TV shows. Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Oscar winner Peter Finch star. The movie gave rise to the cry, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Bob Roberts. Tim Robbins wrote, directed and stars in the title role of this mockumentary about the emergence of a populist conservative U.S. Senate candidate whose charisma and catchy folk songs capture the public’s imagination and conceal dark dealings behind the scenes. The vilification of a particular watchdog journalist (Giancarlo Esposito), the slimy machinations of Roberts’ campaign chief (Alan Rickman) and the cult-like devotion of his followers (including a young Jack Black) are harrowing.
Wag the Dog. With the incumbent president caught in a sex scandal as Election Day fast approaches, the White House communications chief (Robert DeNiro) hires a filmmaker (Dustin Hoffman) to create phony war footage as a distraction from the crisis. The film’s dark humor conveys the desperation of an administration under fire and the lengths to which a criminal executive’s cohorts will go to retain power.
Broadcast News. Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt star in this homage to and parody of network television news gathering and reporting. Ranging from hilarious to poignant, this tale of three diverse sets of talents combine to deliver news stories on camera while coping with personal and professional struggles off camera.
Runaway Jury. With Paul Manafort’s trial at the jury deliberation stage (as of this writing), an examination of jury selection strategies and how one persuasive juror can sway opinions is worth a good, long look. John Cusack leads the ensemble cast, which features Gene Hackman as a shrewd attorney defending a gun maker in a wrongful death lawsuit. (Dustin Hoffman is in this one, too.)
Gaslight. In this sinister drama starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, a man gradually and systematically drives his wife toward madness through continual manipulation and blatant lies. The movie title gave rise to “gaslighting,” a tactic recognized by psychologists and familiar to anyone who’s paying attention to the news these days.