The Insider and the need for films that make heroes out of journalists



Looking back at news stories concerning journalists in 2014 and beyond, it is little wonder that films with a journalist hero protagonist seem to be on the decline.

Whether it was the non-existent morals of the phone hacking affair, Buzzfeed's incredibly dubious claim that they write 'proper' content, not time-wasting sub-tabloid click bait, or even an ex-tabloid journalist showing up to heckle another ex-tabloid journalist at a screening Ben attended, journalism has not recently lent itself to fictionalised tales of heroic conduct.

Which, in many ways, is a shame, because I am a sucker for films that deify journalists. In these dark days, those films are sorely needed.

They are even more sorely needed given their great absence. A browse through the annals of well-regarded recent films with the keyword 'journalist' reveals plenty of films that feature journalists as characters but are not, in themselves, about journalism.

Zodiac potentially qualifies but is definitely primarily a film about a killer and his interaction in people's lives, some of whom are journalists. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a thriller which features a journalist. Good Night, And Good Luck certainly qualifies but is somewhat removed from this point at least in part because of its style and detached presentation.

All of the above are a long away from films such as Samuel Fuller's Park Row, which is not only in love with journalism and what it can do but also with the mechanics of the printing press and how words make it to the page. There's been nothing as passionately behind the power of journalism to the level of All The President's Men, a personal favourite, for many years, certainly nothing which shows the power of the written word and the worth of fighting for the right to write, in that positive a depiction.

Possibly the last great contemporary example is Michael Mann's 1999 Thriller, The Insider, a film I recently revisited.

Al Pacino's hero, Lowell Bergman, is flawed; the face of his show, Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), even more so, but both fight the power when they feel the quality of their message, their journalism, has been besmirched. Along for the ride, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) almost represents the audience; he has to be convinced to put his trust in the journalists, before blaming them when his story does not come out in the right way.

Mann's excuse for the journalists is that the instruction to edit the story comes from on high, from lawyers and management petrified of what a good story could do to them, rather than humanity. This new world selfishness - the corporate interest over the people's - has reflections on where journalism is moving to (and has arguably has already arrived at). The film's place at the apex of the 1990s puts The Insider in a unique position to bare last witness to some of the passing of journalism; Lowell is simultaneously moral victor, bastion of journalistic integrity and complete failure. His like may never be seen on screen again.



By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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