BluRay/DVD Reviews

BROADCAST NEWS

By • Mar 18th, 2011 •

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If you’ve ever worked at a TV station in any capacity, especially in the news department, James L. Brooks’ BROADCAST NEWS will hit very close to home. The last-minute changes, the mad rush to get something on the air, the constant fear of lay-offs, and tension between the new hirees and industry professionals are depicted with sometimes-uncomfortable accuracy. Looking at it, I’m actually surprised how quick people are to label it as a moment in history that’s come and gone.

The film was made 24 years ago, when cable TV was just starting to branch out, and CNN was considered to be in a niche market. ‘Infotainment’ was just starting to move from local stations to national news, and it’s fitting that one of the opening scenes depicts Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), warning a roomful of disinterested industry professionals that TV news is being turned into a dumbed-down, feel-good medium. It’s an earnest scene, and a very depressing one as well when you realize that her words would still fall on deaf ears. Jane’s despair builds as she runs into the only person who seemed interested in her speech, Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a former sportscaster who is about to become an anchor at the station she’s working at as a producer. They instantly quarrel, and the tried-and-true romantic and sexual tension begins between them. All of this is worsened by the fact that Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), the talented correspondent, is also vying for Jane’s affection. The standard love triangle ensues over the backdrop of a news station in transition, as Jane slowly falls for Tom, in spite of the fact that he represents what she hates.

Since writer-director James L. Brooks is famous for practically inventing the ‘dramedy’, there are frequent shifts in tone, all of which seem perfectly in tune with the performers. Albert Brooks stands out the most for me as the professional Aaron. He starts off as a charmingly cynical guy who gets a lot out of life and loves his job, then slowly and painfully becomes a miserable, self-loathing introvert as the film wears on. The iconic scene of the film has him anchoring the news at last, sweating profusely during a live broadcast, to the point where panicked viewers are calling in to the station to make sure he isn’t having a heart attack on-air. It takes real balls to make the funniest scene of your film be what tips it off into dramatic territory, and that’s exactly what James L. Brooks does. Even though Aaron is cracking jokes about the humiliating experience in the very next scene, Jane’s affection for Tom is eating him alive; a fact that he does not keep to himself. Emotional outbursts rarely seem genuine on film, but this is a rare exception. Hunter and Brooks have just had their platonic-but-happy co-existence shattered, and everything the two of them do from now on will be haunted by that little inkling of a thought that they might have had something together, had Hurt not entered the picture.

Speaking of William Hurt, he also gives a terrific performance, having to shift from disarmingly clueless to deceitful to caring at a moment’s notice. During his initial scene as an anchor he looks genuinely scared out of his mind as Holly Hunter gives him instructions from an earpiece.

Hunter too is given a richly-developed character, an emotionally-unbalanced but strong-willed individual who pushes her news team to the limits but justifies her sometimes unorthodox methods at every turn. The chemistry between her, Hurt, Brooks, and her underlings at the station, is a key part of what makes the film work. There’s never a moment where you think that anyone was miscast or is trying too hard in their role, and the performances gel perfectly with the directing style.

Criterion has offered up BROADCAST NEWS on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual their presentation of the film is as good as it could possibly be. The supplements are outstanding, with James L. Brooks providing fascinating commentary over the film itself, the legendary, long-sought-after alternate ending, and a reel of deleted scenes that include an entire supporting character. You wouldn’t think that a film like this would be helped by a hefty amount of extra features, but the insight it gives into the making of BROADCAST NEWS and James L. Brooks’ exceptional career as a whole with the documentary “A Singular Voice”, make it well worth anyone’s time.

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One Response »

  1. Great review.

    I just saw it for the first time, and wrote at length about it and it’s relation to Network and The Mary Tyler Moore Show:

    http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/08/filling-gaps-broadcast-news.html

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