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Films break the news

As newsrooms slowly die across the country, one journalist is hunting for the killer.

As newsrooms slowly die across the country, one journalist is hunting for the killer. Well, a killer. In Russell Crowe’s new movie, State of Play, he stars as a grizzled hack dodging bullets to track down a murderer, rekindling our love affair with silver screen ink slingers in the process.

Anne McNeilly, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University, thinks movies set in newsrooms are so popular because the work itself is exhilarating.

“As soon as news happens anywhere, you know about it first. 9/11, how exciting was that? A hostage taking downtown, you know about in a second. It’s a buzz.”

McNeilly started in small papers before working 25 years for the Globe & Mail and Ottawa Citizen. It was movies like All The President’s Men that drew her to newspapers.

“Journalists get hooked on that adrenaline rush, because it’s like a drug. You get so addicted you can’t leave the biz,” she explains. That excitement translates to the viewer.

“I love movies about newsrooms,” she says, citing His Girl Friday and Deadline USA as favourites.

“What’s so unnerving (at Ryerson) is that lots of the students now have never heard of Woodward and Bernstein. They don’t even know what Watergate is,” she says. “They brought down a president! What’s a bigger story than that?”

While her students retain some of the idealism of previous generations, they are already jaded and prefer a different kind of fictional news hound. “They like Jon Stewart or Rick Mercer. Some of them think what they are doing is journalism.”

Richard Crouse, Metro’s movie columnist, cites All the President’s Men and another Crowe movie, The Insider, as great examples of the genre.

“The reporters in these films act as surrogates for the viewer. They ask the questions the viewer would ask,” he explains. “You’ve got newspapers who are bringing down big, evil corporations or taking on city hall and winning. It really appeals to people.”

Crouse highlights Billy Wilder’s 1951 movie Ace in the Hole as a newsroom flick that got too close to the truth. Kirk Douglas plays an out-of-luck journalist who risks lives to stretch a news story that could save his career in Wilder’s follow up to Sunset Boulevard.

“It’s a terrific movie, but it bombed really badly,” he says. “Movie historians think the journalists who were reviewing the film were so offended by it that they trashed it.”

All the news that’s fit to film

Looking to investigate the journalism-on-film genre a little more closely? Here are Metro’s suggestions:

• Shattered Glass
• The Killing Fields
• The Paper
• All the President’s Men
• Broadcast News
• The Insider
• Absence of Malice
• Good Night and Good Luck
• Salvador
• Wag the Dog
• Blood Diamonds
• Capote
• Citizen Kane
• The China Syndrome
• The Year of Living Dangerously

 
 
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