Director: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid
Release Date: 4th March 2016 (UK)
This film has its finger on the pulse thematically, opening with a political interlude and no visual; but the topic that we hear lays suggestion to the caucus voting that is currently taking place at an Alabama polling station near you by way of coin toss; as Hilary and Ditzy Donald battle it out in the Yankee 4-yearly battle between red and blue.
Political leanings aside, I am lucky enough to be able to view this movie a week ahead of time among a gaggle of actual real life journalists at a pro screening. So I’m a hack now… I feel a solidarity with my (new found) peers as we sit thoughtfully in the opening sequence.
Some interesting focus pulling gives us our first glimpses of the ice cool megalith acting powerhouse that is Cate Blanchett (Mary Mapes) as a strung out news producer flummoxing her way through a narky riposte with a bearded antagonist; she is given time and glorious screen space to manoeuvre us into the completely authentic belief that we are watching reality. Fuck this woman is good.
Rewind to our journo six months prior to the antagonist’s opening review, and we are greeted by a pack of hungry reporters and researchers and a snappy military warhead Dennis Quaid (Lt. Colonel Roger Charles) baying for blood on the rally for their next unwitting victim. Step forward George Dubya Bush who – not for the first time – has the crosshairs planted firmly on his forehead, and so begins a countdown of intrigue and delving in a harried race against time to deliver a story.
An initial foray, later deftly saved, into the ills of historical family trauma and its long ranging after effects proves a touch trite at first, although is quickly forgotten as we are romanced into a rather sumptuous looking movie that gives a rarely seen technical insight into the art of making television.
Showing the edit craft in such detail must have been a welcome indulgence for the people who actually created this film, and it was done with much respect. We are treated to a beautiful rub of camera framing, lighting and the edit suite up-close and personal, interspersed with take outs on $30,000 consoles as the team rush towards their scoop headfirst. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end as we prickle through the mire of framing, interview and “getting the shot”.
There is plenty of political charge, as the film fingers semantically the Bush administration and it’s subsequent aftermath on young people today. Cleverly inserted too are the use of graphics representing the present techno age that we are seeing more and more prevalently used in today’s film making.
At one point the film delves into the semiotics of text, linguistics and ‘kerning’ of all things (ask google), and I wonder if my graphic designer stepdad will pop on screen and explain to someone that there are a load of awful widows on their documents and that their Pantone ref is off when converted to RGB for web, but he doesn’t.
The cinematography in this movie was clear and intense and clever, and the use of negative space in various shots peppered throughout the film were all used to great effect, as were a series of really artfully lit, sexy looking studio shots.
The strength of “blogger takedown” was dramatic and frightening as the screen batted us around in a mist of emails, memos, texts and the like. Pushy journalism and corporate gain made for ugly, uncomfortable and sinister viewing as our stunning studio lighting suddenly becomes grimy, burning lights used to interrogate and frighten.
A star turn was made in particular I feel by Australian actress Noni Hazelhurst (Nicki Burkett) who absolutely deserves a mention as she made her acting ingenuity, and presence greatly felt every time that she was given screentime.
A complex web of relationships unfold and we are plunged back again into the drama of entrenched family abuse, illustrated by a disturbed Blanchett in a series of taupe ribbed knitwear that would make Martha Stewart proud. That said, none of the colouring was ugly, in fact it was a joy to look at all the way through, synergetic and oh-so-perfectly cookies and cream whenever our hero Cate rocked the screen. The film was on the cusp of having an “HBO green” vibe but the colouring was well done enough that; like the hypnotic HBO green, none of us actually noticed until it was too late and we had watched ER solidly every Friday night for 6 years.
As the film closes I am reminded how the sanctity of a good lawyer is essential, and how one can save your ass when you have no sanctity left of your own. Cate’s is sucked almost clean out of her at the end (her sanctity, not her lawyer); just as she regains her composure and reminds us that even when it all turns to shit, as long as we are who we are, nothing really fucking matters anyway to be honest.
Sadly, the film was let down at the end by a punctuation stab of vicious, hyper-pixellated 4k television green screen overlay in what was an otherwise perfectly framed, coloured and imagined sequence; expeditiously followed by an overly-jazzy hollywood slo-mo, “bring ‘em home Danno” Robert Reford kill shot. It didn’t leave a sour taste, because the movie was actually really rather good. The filmic equivalent of a really great meal at Topo Gigio’s on Brewer Street 10 years ago followed by their rubbish Tiramisu, it didn’t ruin it but I needn’t have had anything more than a dry cappuccino for afters.
Go truth seekers. It’s good.