Monday, April 4, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Paper

One of the real travesties of the information age has been the decline and fall of the daily newspaper. For so long, It was the source of news. Television news always had the sheen and soft focus of something in a daily battle for ratings but for genuine journalism, you couldn't beat print media in the eyes of most people. However with the rise of new media, the daily newspaper has struggled to identify its raison d'etre. Is it news or commentary? If the news in a daily paper is 24 hours old by the time it hits the news stands, what is the point of it? Today's film is an examination of a day in the life of a New York tabloid editor right at the end of the glory days in early '90s, right before the internet came and changed the game forever, The Paper.
Michael Keaton leads an all star cast as Henry Hackett, the metro editor of the perennially struggling New York Sun. The film follows 24 hours in Henry's life and the life of the newspaper. The film flys along at a terrific pace in what turns out to be a momentous day for all involved. Henry has a big decision to make. He has an interview for a job at a much more upmarket paper, while trying to placate his heavily pregnant wife, the ever lovely Marisa Tomei. He is also locked in a battle with the upwardly mobile shrew Alicia, played with  a bitchy menace by Glenn Close over the direction of the paper and their coverage of a supposedly racially motivated killing in Brooklyn. Their boss, the editor, a chain smoking Robert Duvall gets some bad health news and attempts a reconciliation with his daughter. The paper's star columnist, played with a portentous lunacy by Randy Quaid spends most of the film hiding out in Henry's office for fear somebody is trying to kill him. If that wasn't enough star power, Jason Robards pops up as the paper's publisher. 
If the film has a failure, it is that there is often too much going on during the day however I suppose that is a reality of your average newsroom. The film lurches from one disaster to another but it makes for entertaining viewing and is at times genuinely funny. Some of the best one liners are left to Duvall's ageing editor, Bernie.

Phil: Aw, Jesus, Bernie. Come on with the smoke. You know the doctor found nicotine in my urine again. 
Bernie: Then keep your dick out of my ashtray.

The central fixation of the film is the dichotomy of chasing paper sales while also trying to tell the truth. After the murder of two white businessmen, two minority youths are arrested. Hackett learns that they didn't do it but can't get a source to prove it. Alicia feels they should go with a headline indicating guilt as they can't prove innocence. It plays out entertainingly and the acerbic back biting between the two is a joy to watch. The ending when it comes is thrilling and funny in equal measures.
The ensemble cast give some great performances, particularly Keaton as the intelligent and witty Editor capable of working anywhere but drawn to the madcap world of tabloid journalism, giving some wonderfully profane speeches.

Paul Bladden, New York Sentinel: Well, I hope you're satisfied, asshole! You just blew your chance to cover the world! 
Henry: Really? Well guess fucking what? I don't really fucking care. You wanna know fucking why? Because I don't fucking live in the fucking world! I live in fucking New York City! So go fuck yourself! 
[Henry slams down telephone back on the receiver]

All of the stock characters you might expect to find in a newsroom are there, the power hungry bitch, the ageing legend, the drunken columnist. This might irk some people but I found it oddly reassuring, giving the film a base in reality. Cliché's always a kernel of truth a their centre. 
Ultimately, this is a very enjoyable trip of a movie, ending where it begins with the ticking of a bedside clock radio and a radio news announcer signing off:

"Because your whole world can change in 24 hours"

Backed by a strong script and some fine performances, director Ron Howard has put together a little gem of a film that chronicles the ups and downs of an atypical news day married with the everyday difficulties of human life. It's funny and touching but always entertaining. A very enjoyable watch.

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