Hold the front page – the 10 best films about journalists
- Credit: Columbia Pictures/Warner Brothers/Entertainment One
With Steven Spielberg's The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, hot off the presses and in cinemas, we look at 10 of the best films about journalism and how they reflect our love/hate relationship with reporters.
In 1971, The New York Times successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of a free press in response to a challenge from President Richard Nixon to suspend publication of classified reports detailing US military involvement in Vietnam.
Director Steven Spielberg's dramatisation of events leading up to this high-profile legal showdown over the Pentagon Papers feels uncomfortably relevant.
The Post is also a timely depiction of gender inequality in the workplace and lionises the achievements of Katharine Graham (palyed by Meryl Streep), publisher of The Washington Post, who risked losing the business her father bought in 1933 because she refused to be bullied into submission. Tom Hanks provides robust support as Ben Bradlee, the crusading executive editor, who doesn't appreciate meddling from the boardroom.
The film is a homage to the best ideals of journalism — and can be read as a prequel to All The President's Men.
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At its best, journalism is a scalpel that slices through to the truth and exposes the bones of institutions that should be defending our interests. At its worst it's a sleazy, gossipy pursuit of tittle-tattle that has only a passing acquaintance to the truth.
From Watergate to the phone hacking scandals of the 2000s, journalists have risen and fallen in public esteem and that is reflected on how they have been potrayed on screen too.
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Sometimes they are viewed as heroes, crusading champions of truth and the underdog, but more frequently journalists on screen are presented as lying, cheating weasels who would sell their granny for a byline. The truth is, of course, somewhere in the middle.
But films about journalism, whether that be the high water marks like All The President's Men or 2016 Oscar winner Spotlight, or the sleazy underbelly of news in films like Nightcrawler, offer an interesting reflection of how the role of news has changed.
There are no shortage of films that feature newsmen. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, frequently named the best film ever, centres on the story of immensely wealthy newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane (loosely based on real life media magnate William Randolph Hearst) and a group of reporters trying to decipher his last word.
Other journalism films worthy of note include George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, about the battle between journalist Edward R Murrow and senator Joseph McCarthy, and Warren Beatty's Reds the story of American idealist/journalist John Reed.
Fictional Daily Express reporter Peter Stelling exposes a conspiracy in 1961's The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which is probably the best depiction of Britain's Fleet Street as it once was.
David Fincher channelled the look of All The Pressident's Men for Zodiac. Ron Howard's The Paper and James L. Brooks' Broadcast News are set in 1980s newsrooms. While a team of investigative reporters try to solve the murder of a congressman's mistress in State of Play, adppated from the BBC drama.
But here are our 10 films that reflect journalism on screen and say soemthting about the changing role of news and how its reported…
His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawks' screwball comedy features Cary Grant as Walter Burns a newspaper editor trying to hang on to his star reporter, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell). She is leaving journalism to go off and marry, but an escaped convict, hiding behind a desk in the newsroom, is the perfect bait for Walter to lure Hildy back. Newspapers, flirtation, rapid-fire witty dialogue and lots of smoking.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who stumbles upon a potentially career-making story about a man trapped in a cave in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But he sets out to manipulate the victim's wife, the morally bankrupt mayor and a cub photographer for his own ends. As an acidic and unflinching examination of journalistic ethics Billy Wilder's film was way ahead of its time. He went on to make less hard-hitting comedy The Front Page (1974), with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as battling newspapermen in 1920s Chicago.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Burt Lancaster stars as the vicious Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent he ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his sister. Alexander MacKendrick's neon-lit film drips with cynical, deliciously acidic dialogue and shows that ruthless journalism and an unscrupulous agents who'll do anything to achieve success are nothing new.
Peter Finch is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore as ageing television presenter Howard Beale in Sidney Lumet's savage satire on TV news, with an Oscar-winning script from Paddy Chayevsky. His on-air mental breakdown boosts ratings prompting cynical bosses to give him his own show to rant on. Incredibly precident though it actually seems tame now. A stage version is currently at the National Theatre starring Bryan Cranston.
All The President's Men (1976)
The most famous journalism film ever about perhaps the most famous newspaper expose ever. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford play Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward who, aided by White House mole Deep Throat, thwart Nixon's attempted cover-up. Both leads sat in on real-life Washington Post news conferences and newsroom sets were exact copies of the real thing. Part of Alan J. Pakula's 'paranoia trilogy' which also includes The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty as a reporter investigating a senator's assassination.
The Killing Fields (1984)
Harrowing but rewarding drama concerns the real-life relationship between New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran, the latter left at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge after Schanberg failed to get him safe passage. Roland Joffé, previously a documentarist, cast Haing S. Ngor, a real-life doctor who had never acted and who lived through the real life events, and who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
British journalist Michael Henderson, with support from the flamboyant 'star' American journalist Flynn (Woody Harrelson), decides to risk everything to embark on a perilous journey to evacuate the besieged city's orphan children. The film is inspired by the true story of ITV news reporter Michael Nicholson, who after months of reporting on the siege of Sarajevo, smuggled a child out of the war-torn city and later adopted her.
The Insider (1999)
Al Pacino gives a powerful performance as veteran 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman trying to coax executive Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) into spilling the beans on the unethical practices of big tobacco for his expose in Michael Mann's journalism thriller. Excellent both as the story of an ordinary man pitted against ruthless big business and as a study of the ethics of a journalist and his source.
Writer-director Dan Gilroy's murky look at the underbelly of Los Angeles news starring a creepy Jake Gyllenhaal as ghoulish loner Louis Bloom who becomes a 'stringer' selling footage of accidents and violent crime to TV news stations. A look at digital-age journalism at its most most grimy. Catch out the Netflix documentary Shot in the Dark for the real thing.
If Nightcrawler is the underbelly, this Oscar-winning portrays journalism at its most noble. In 2002 the Spotlight Investigations team of the Boston Globe exposed a long history of sexual abuse in the Boston Roman Catholic Church. The newspaper was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Thomas McCarthy's impeccably crafted drama pays tribute to the close-knit team of tenacious reporters, including editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson (played by Michael Keaton).