Monday, 31 January 2011

Broadcast News (1987) - James L. Brooks

This is one of those films that I presumed I'd seen at some point in my life, after the opening scene however I was 100% certain that I hadn't. Lucky me, since this is a cracking dramedy (did real people ever use that term, I'm thinking not). Which isn't all that surprising when you look at just who wrote and directed it. Yep James L. Brooks. Probably not a name that drips off of most peoples tongues when running through their favourite directors, but I guarantee you love at least something he's been involved with. A tenner says I'm right, what do you say? Maybe like me you belatedly admitted that you have a soft spot for As Good as It Gets, I always told myself it was because of Jack Nicholson that I liked it, but now I'm not so sure. Don't agree? Well how about Taxi (the TV show not the Luc Besson retirement fund franchise), Lou Grant, no? Surely The Simpsons then? Okay? You can forget the £10, just get me a beer when you see me. As a producer he was the guy that got behind Wes Anderson when everyone else just laughed (not in a good way either) at his Bottle Rocket short, and stumped up the cash to turn it into a feature. What I'm getting at is Brooks might not be Ozu, but he's the guy whose films you reach for when home from work with the flu. There's something about him when he's on form, that puts him a notch above the usual Rom Com writer/directors.

Broadcast News is his best looking film by a mile, mainly down to the fact that Michael Ballhaus (The Age of Innocence, Goodfellas) was the director of photography. There is a fair bit of split focus used, which is where something at the back of the frame is in focus at the same time as an object in the foreground. It's a really beautiful effect when done properly, and not something you see too often anymore. Like I said Broadcast News is a great looking film, well directed too, not flashy, the sort of direction that doesn't draw attention to itself. Direction that is there in service of the actors, in short the sort of thing you would expect from a director who writes great dialogue, and doesn't want anything to distract the viewer from hearing it. 

Anyway, William Hurt is the ladykilling (looks wise, not Bundy wise) news anchor man who it turns out isn't all that bright. Albert Brooks is his opposite, a fantastic newshound but not a natural front man. Holly Hunter is the final side of our lurve triangle, she's the crusading producer who like Albert Brooks believes that you don't have to tabloid up the news and sell it to people, she's a girl in a mans world, and all that stuff. So both Hurt and Brooks lust after Hunter, who in turn fancies Hurt, admires Brooks but doesn't want to get icky with him. It's a big messy typical romantic comedy type scenario, except with no Meg Ryan. This is where James Brooks is better than say Nora Ephron, knowing just when the film should lean towards comedy and when it needs to err on the side of drama. Not once does it feel forced, there are no obvious clues as to how it will end or who will end up with who. You'll care, but you'll be too engrossed in what's happening to think ten minutes ahead.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of a busy NBC style news show. There's all sorts of fluff in there so that it doesn't feel too much like a love triangle film, such as a sub plot about cut backs and redundancies. The real drama of the film (and it is more drama than comedy), though is the three headed beast that I mentioned earlier. It's all very much of it's time, William Hurt's hair was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for instance, and let's not even get into just what Joan Cusack looks like. I don't want to make this sound like one of the greatest films ever made, because it plainly isn't that. It's just that in a genre that I would normally tend to avoid, I found this to be original, engrossing, well acted and best of all a film I would watch again.

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