Broadcast News (1987)

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is a network news producer who takes her work very seriously and is completely dedicated to her job. Her work is frantic and she’s willing to do anything to make sure the stories she produces turn out perfect, even when that means editing up until the very last second.

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She finds herself attracted to news anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) despite the fact that he represents everything she hates about the direction in which the news industry is headed: the uneducated “talking heads” who deliver the news, and the too-fun stories they deliver. Tom is a new hire to the network.

Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a network reporter/correspondent, doesn’t have the Hollywood looks of Tom but he’s got the brains, and he’s liked Jane for a long time. They’ve worked together for years and they frequently travel together, collaborating on stories.

As the network undergoes changes in attempt to please an entertainment-hungry audience, Jane must make difficult choices between style and substance in both her personal life and her professional life.

Broadcast News was written and directed by James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good as It Gets). The film was released in 1987 and was honored with a whopping seven Oscar nominations the following year: lead actress (Holly Hunter), lead actor (William Hurt), supporting actor (Albert Brooks), screenplay, cinematography, editing and Best Picture.

This film is of a rare breed. It’s the type of film that you fall in love with only a few minutes in, because you can already tell after that little bit of viewing that it’s going to be a great one. And it delivers on the promises of its beginning, effortlessly keeping a firm grip on the viewer’s attention for the next two hours or so.

The brilliance of this film’s opening is that it introduces the three central characters as children. Tom, for instance,  is seen riding in a truck with his father, pondering his future. “What can you do with yourself if all you can do is look good?,” he asks as the words “Future Network Anchorman” pop up near the bottom of the frame. It’s incredibly clever, and the traits that we see in the younger versions of the characters are still present once we meet them as adults in the newsroom: Tom’s feelings of intellectual inadequacy, Albert’s me-against-the-world attitude, Jane’s perfectionism.

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That’s another thing I loved about the film: these characters are flawed, and realistically so. They have dimension. I’ve spent enough time in newsrooms and around journalists to know that these are all personalities that you would find in the real-world field of journalism, but they’re not specific to the field, either. Just about any viewer will be able to relate to one of the three central characters. (I found myself relating to all three of them.)

This realistic-ness and relatability is bolstered by three fantastic performances by Hunter, Hurt and Brooks, all very worthy of their Academy Award nominations.

Hunter especially impresses in her central role of Jane, and her character stands out as well. Jane is an intelligent, hard-working, hot-headed and complex person. She stands up for herself and the way that she believes things should run at the network. She’s a very strong character, and Hunter plays her with both strength and vulnerability.

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Jane’s workplace dramas (as well as those of the other characters) are well-balanced against the story’s love triangle. This isn’t a standard rom-com where the characters all have jobs but seem to do nothing except gossip and eat lunch during their salaried hours. I loved the fact that the story paid so much attention to the careers of Jane, Tom and Aaron.

From ’30s gangster dramas (Picture Snatcher) to screwball comedies (Wedding Present), newsrooms have long served as a subject of fascination for Hollywood. In many ways Broadcast News follows tradition, showcasing the deadline-driven, often exciting (read as: stressful) environment in which the people who bring the news to the public work. It falls in line with the greats of what I’ve come to refer to has the “journfilm” subgenre. Great dialogue, great characters, great story, great ending. I loved every minute of this film. The score: 5/5!

2 thoughts on “Broadcast News (1987)

  1. Nice review, Lindsey…I haven’t seen this one since it was first released, so I guess it’s about time for another viewing. And what a great year for Holly Hunter: ‘Broadcast News’ AND ‘Raising Arizona’!


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