Broadcast News Review

Writer/director James L. Brooks doesn’t follow the rules of journalism in his classic Broadcast News but he does get to the heart of the story. Set in the late–80s, a decade or so before the 24-hour news cycle took over television, the film follows three Washington broadcasters trying to do their jobs while keeping their personal lives off of primetime. While Brooks has always wrangled a fantastic cast, his recent outings (Spanglish and How Do You Know) forget what makes his 1987 work so perfect: empathy. The director and his exceptional performers make sure we know how everyone feels and why they feel it.

Jane (Holly Hunter) is the network’s best producer. Along with Aaron (Albert Brooks), her top field anchor, she delivers hard-hitting stories that rely on realism, not humanity. Enter Tom (William Hurt), a local sportscaster who’s been called up to the big leagues thanks to his good looks, natural charisma, and a little salesmanship. Tom produces human interest stories and allows his emotions to become part of the report, squeezing Aaron out of the job and Jane out of her emotional shell. Now engaged in a professional and personal love triangle, Jane becomes the deciding factor of what matters more: talent or charm.  

The screenplay gets its heavy-lifting done early and defines everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in a prologue. We first meet Tom as boy, who in a page of dialog lays out his characters problems: he’s attractive but dumb. Cut. Brooks jumps to 15-year-old Aaron’s resentful high school valedictorian speech—and subsequent beating for it—and outlines the boy’s problem: he’s too smart for his own good. Next. We see Jane at age 10, obsessively doing her homework and, when her father asks her to slow down, defending her sanity. Like a proper journalist, Brooks edits the sequence hard to tell the audience what they need to know.

Hunter gives a standout performance as Jane, who’s like His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson on the verge of a nervous breakdown, torn between the man she admires and the man she’s attracted to. William Hurt has the thankless task of being the good-looking guy that everyone seems to despise, yet is somehow likable. Hurt sells Tom’s insecurities (“I’m no good at what I’m being a success at”) with self awareness, so we can understand why Jane loves him and learn to love him ourselves. Likewise, Albert Brooks becomes the talented, and hilarious, underdog who has the goods without the appeal. His cynicism is a turn off, but Albert Brooks, still riding high off films like Real Life and Modern Romance, is too funny to hate.

It’s all about clarity. Because Brooks clearly defines his characters, he can take them in whatever direction he wants, like intercutting the romance of Tom and Jane’s first kiss with slapstick comedy of Aaron’s sweaty first broadcast. A wonderfully written and acted comedy, matched by Brooks’ in-the-pocket direction, Broadcast News is as close to perfect as modern filmmaking gets.  

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