Journo Film: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Review

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Most typical murder mysteries rely on a stock set of characters to play detective. You can usually bet that the protagonist trying to get to the bottom of the mystery is either a detective, a plucky kid, a middle aged couple or… a journalist. David Fincher’s remake of this gritty Swedish thriller is a murder mystery where a journalist plays detective to uncover the truth.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is based on the novel by Swedish ex-journalist Stieg Larsson. The film follows the exploits of disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig. He is hired by a Swedish industrialist to track down the killer of a young girl 40 years before. Blomkvist is assisted in his investigation by Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara, a young computer hacker.

The one issue I initially had with the film was that the mystery never intrigued me for long enough. In each scene Blomkvist and Salander uncover some piece of evidence which begs further questions, however invariably in the next scene they find the piece of evidence to solve it. In other words I never felt captivated by the plot for long enough, it would whet my appetite and then promptly feed me in wholly unsatisfying way.

However on repeat viewings I appreciate the film as an artful exploration of atmosphere, not so much as a mystery film. Fincher has a knack with his films of creating an unsettling and tense atmosphere that you cannot help but be drawn to and be intrigued by. The sort of film, like Se7en which despite the grisly subject matter, you will want to watch again and again. Continue reading

Journo Film: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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The Philadelphia Story is one of the best romantic comedies ever made. The all star cast of James Stewart, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn makes this film an absolute treat for fans of the silver screen.

The film follows the attempts of Macaulay Connor (Mike to his friends) played by James Stewart to cover the impending marriage of socialite, Hepburn. Stewart works for a magazine who want him to write a feature from inside the wedding, to do so he must go undercover as a guest. However his only way into the lives of this rich Philadelphia family is through Cary Grant as the incredibly named C. K. Dexter Haven, Hepburn’s ex-husband.

What ensues is not so much a love triangle but a love polygon, with Hepburn, Grant and Stewart at the centre along with Hepburn’s soon to be husband and Stewart’s photographer.

The film is s delight from start to finish. A particular highlight of the film is Cary Grant’s laconic and love-lorn recovering alcoholic. Whenever he saunters into a scene and drawls at Hepburn in his trans-Atlantic accent he proves just why he was one of Hollywood’s most enduring screen presences playing leading-man roles throughout his 30-year career.

The Philadelphia Story, quite rightly, is remembered as one of the best romantic comedies of all time. It is not particularly remembered as a film about journalism. Continue reading

Journo Film: The Paper (1994)

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The Paper is a comedy/drama starring Michael Keaton set over 24 hours in a busy newsroom. The film follows Henry Hackett the editor of a New York City tabloid in one day at the busy paper. Hackett is a workaholic with a pregnant wife at home, an impending job interview for another more prestigious paper and a deadline to meet. As you would expect a hot story lands on his desk which Hackett simply will not leave until tomorrow. This obviously complicates his relationship with his wife and with the other reporters in the newsroom.

The film, directed by Ron Howard, captures better than most the busy exciting buzz of a working newsroom. This isn’t surprising as the film was co-written by Stephen Koepp, ex editor of Time Magazine. The newsroom in the film has the feel of a place that never closes. Instead it runs like a 24 hour McDonalds, when the sun rises they just wipe the grease off and carry on. The newsroom is full of energetic reporters with big egos, heaps of old newspaper and an endless list of problems for Keaton to deal with.

The film is bolstered by some stellar performances from Keaton himself, Randy Quaid as a maverick reporter with a gun in his belt, Glenn Close as a tight managing director who will let a story wait until the next edition to save a penny, Marissa Tomeii as Hackett’s wife, a heavily pregnant ex-reporter, and Robert Duvall as an editor in chief facing middle age. Continue reading

Journo Film: All the President’s Men (1976)

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I would describe All the President’s Men as the Citizen Kane of journalism films if Citizen Kane was not itself, a journalism film. The classic film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman tells the legendary story of the greatest piece of investigative journalism in American history. The film details Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s uncovering of the Watergate scandal which eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation.

All the President’s Men is one of my favourite films of all time. I probably watch it at least once a month. The last time I watched it was in the lecture theatre in Cardiff University’s journalism department the night before attending a guest lecture by Carl Bernstein himself.

The film is so effective because it is essentially a dramatised documentary. There isn’t any distractingly large performances or over-ambitious camera angles. Redford and Hoffman may have been at the top of their games here, but in All the President’s Men the plot is the star.

What a journalist can learn from the film?

The thing which I think I took away from the film was how important tenacity is to a journalist. This story did not land straight into the laps of Bernstein and Woodward, they had to work for it. This story started out as a small burglary at a hotel, it was these two reporters at the Washington Post who saw something in the story that others didn’t. The pair kept following the money, chasing the leads until they uncovered one of the biggest stories in American history. Continue reading