Broadcast News just received the Criterion Collection Blu-ray treatment, and was accordingly re-released on DVD last week. The film follows three television news journalists played by Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks. Hunter is a hot shot journalist who likes focusing on her career, but looks for sexual confirmation when it comes to being a woman. Hurt plays as her serpent, appreciating her womanly allure, but willing to destroy her ethical standards. Brooks, who is also in love with Hunter, can see past Hurt’s charm and knows what he truly represents, the biased pandering of news media.
James L. Brooks is a better writer than he is director. He seamlessly blends comedic and dramatic dialogue. In some scenes you can cut the sexual tension with a knife, and then Albert Brooks will sneak in a one liner to undercut the tone. And it’s these juxtapositions that work best in the film. The movie is witty and and knows the many facets of the television news world. There is nothing but great performances, and even a special cameo by Jack Nicholson.
These two movies are basically the same. They both focus on the ever changing landscape of network news. They both take a satirical approach to its subject. They both have great performances – Peter Finch even won an Oscar. The only difference is the tone. Network is a grimly dark and pessimistic take on how we control the media and how the media in turn controls us. Broadcast News almost falls into romantic territory with its tone. And it’s last scene offers a little glimpse of hope.
And it’s the darker mood of Network that makes it win this battle. The final scene tends to leave a nasty taste in your mouth, and it stick with you longer than any of the moments from Broadcast News.
Albert Brooks is self loathing, cynical, neurotic intellect, and he’s one hell of a comedian. One of his best films is Defending Your Life, where he dies in the first five minutes. It’s a nice little film with an edge of the macabre. Brooks is forced to look back at his life and defend his actions before they allow him into heaven.
The problem with Brooks is that he plays the same character over and over again in all his movies. But the character works, time and time again it works. Here he has Meryl Streep to fall in love with instead of Holly Hunter. Streep tones down here performance making Brooks seem more over the top, which is a good thing.
I think I enjoy Defending Your Life just a little more than Broadcast News, but it’s really close. It’s more philosophical, and plays out like a good Woody Allen flick. Broadcast News just explores ethical questions, but it really doesn’t dig deeper into the human psyche.
James L. Brooks likes working with Jack Nicholson. Out of the six movies Brooks has directed, Jack has been in four of them and has won Oscars for two of them. And As Good As It Gets is Nicholson’s best performance of his 53 year career. Jack’s role in Broadcast News is good, but he can play a big shot prick even better. He adds a twist to the neurotic caricature by giving it a touch of bitterness that lets the audience simultaneously sympathize and loathe him.
The screenplay is also better. Again, Brooks seamlessly mixes drama, romance, and comedy. But in As Good As It Gets, he doesn’t have a message to convey. He lets the characters take over the script, and they have the freedom to induce certain emotions in the audience. It’s one of my favorite movies from the 90′s, so my vote goes to it over Broadcast News.
Right now it sits at 129 out of 2887 movies. I can only assume that it will fall from that spot, because I don’t consider it a great film. It is a movie that rests on the precipice of greatness, but lacks that final piquancy. It’s very good entertainment. An enjoyable hour and a half. I recommend it, but don’t be looking for a masterpiece.