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Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005 03:16 pm

Movie writers

What’s harder than writing? Try making a good film about writers.

Writing is a lonely profession, and the subject rarely lends itself to drama. It works if the writer or journalist develops a relationship with a known lunatic, as is the case in two new high-profile films, Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck. For Truman Capote, it was Perry Smith, one of the In Cold Blood killers; for Edward R. Murrow, it was Joe McCarthy, the U.S. senator from Wisconsin who saw Commies in his cereal. Most of us don’t have those opportunities, though. The public’s perception of reporters is based mainly on The Front Page (1931), the film that set the standard for all most all reporter clichés. The story was so durable that it held up for two superior remakes, His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1974), but it fell flat when the setting was changed to television in Switching Channels (1988). Probably most modern journalists have been inspired by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose investigation of Watergate led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. All the President’s Men (1976) magnificently brought this dark but ultimately positive period in modern politics to the big screen. Director Alan J. Pakula and producer/actor Robert Redford created a flawless celebration of the freedom of the press with a combination of painstaking detail and suspenseful storytelling. Unfortunately, though it is also a reminder of the days when the mainstream press actually challenged the government.
Stephen Glass was a journalist whose real talent lay in fiction. Shattered Glass (2003) is a factual account of the New Republic writer who fabricated many of his stories. Anyone who doubts the acting ability of Hayden Christensen on the basis of his flat performances as Anakin Skywalker should see his flamboyant and emotional grandstanding here. Almost Famous (2000) would seem like a fantasy if it hadn’t been loosely based on director Cameron Crowe’s own experiences as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling Stone. Crowe perfectly re-creates the sights and sounds of 1970s rock & roll, but Kate Hudson steals the film as a melancholy groupie.
Finding Forrester (2000) may not be the best film about writing, but it is one of the few to delve into the creative process. Sean Connery portrays a reclusive writer who becomes a mentor to a teenage African-American writing prodigy (Rob Brown). Connery seems to take on the mentor role more often than Al Pacino does. I’d like to see a movie with Connery teaching Pacino to become a mentor. Actually, I wouldn’t — I’d rather see more movies featuring writers as heroes.

New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Nov. 22): War of the Worlds, The Polar Express, and The Honeymooners.
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