#tbt reviews: cinema’s best representations of journalism


IMG_2459Preston Barta // Editor

Being a journalist is by no means an easy profession. All too often you have to step out of your comfort zone, ask uneasy questions and do things that sometimes go against your own values.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, about a journalist (Tina Fey) who recounts her wartime coverage in Afghanistan and Pakistan, opens this weekend. In honor of its release (and SPOTLIGHT’s Best Picture win), we’re looking back at the movies that illustrate the complexities of the newsroom.

The-End-of-the-Tour-ReviewDavid Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), THE END OF THE TOUR (2015)

While this film isn’t throwback enough – only released just last year – it was a criminally underseen and overlooked film. It’s also an excellent portrayal of journalism, showing how difficult the job can be, the hard decisions you have to make, the facts you have to collect (and the way you go about it), and maintaining professionalism among many other notable things.

THE END OF THE TOUR tells the story of a journalist, Rolling Stone magazine reporter David Lipsky (Eisenberg), who is assigned to interview acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), who’s on a publicity tour for his breakthrough novel INFINITE JEST. The duo spend five days talking and arguing about fame, loneliness, depression, junk food and DIE HARD… and it’s great.

all_the_presidents_men_redford_1Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)

Now, I wasn’t alive when this movie came out in 1976, but I am aware of the impact it had. At a time when children only had the outdoors and the movies, every kid in the ’70s wanted to be a journalist after seeing ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. It’s no surprise either, as it was one of the first films to accurately portray how suspenseful and exciting the world of journalism can be.
It’s out of the question to not root for Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) as they uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

MBDCIKA EC019Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), CITIZEN KANE (1941)

When you make up a list centering on journalism or reporting, you can’t not mention CITIZEN KANE. Beyond its technical achievements (lighting, masking and camera work), the film represents ambitious storytelling on a grand scale. It kicks aside the standard flashback structure and introduces multiple narratives to paint a picture of a complicated man.

One of those narratives covers – you guessed it – a fascinating depiction of journalism. How does a compelling journalist tick? CITIZEN KANE expertly dives into such. In fact, Welles and writer Herman Mankiewicz drew inspiration from the life of William Randolph Hearst, who owned many newspapers at the time of the film’s release in 1941.

Instead of doing a by-numbers approach to Hearst’s life, Welles explores the complicated nature of storytelling and the corruption existing in a powerful entity like the newspaper business.

Shattered GlassStephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), SHATTERED GLASS (2003)

After the dreadful prequel trilogy in the STAR WARS franchise, who knew Hayden Christensen had it in him? In portraying the rise and fall of stained New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, who fabricated over half of his articles, Christensen made an unlikable dude charming (think Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs).

SHATTERED GLASS doesn’t exactly inspire people to want to pursue journalism, but it tackles how sticky it can often be. It’s a cautionary tale that’s quite good.

zodiac-downey-gyllenhaalRobert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), ZODIAC (2007)

While Robert Graysmith (played by Gyllenhaal) started as a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, he had a heart set for bigger opportunities, including investigative journalism. Graysmith took his job so serious and went further than anyone wants to imagine: following the trail to the infamous Zodiac killer.

The film went into how Graysmith became obsessed with the case and how it disrupted his relationships (causing two divorces). It’s a film that makes you wonder if you should give up and focus on the things that matter (friends and family), or face obstacles that may end in sorrow.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT opens in theaters tomorrow, and SPOTLIGHT is available on Blu-ray and DVD today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.