Compared to the viciousness of 'Network' which not only attacked television but also, quite justifiably, people in general, 'Broadcast News' is merely a mild satire on the standards of news coverage and our attitude and even disinterest toward current affairs. It can also be seen as a Rocky-like inspiration for those of us who feel that we are in a job that demands abilities that we can not provide as we may be able to thrive on our good looks and personality, if we have them.
The film is about a handsome, likable news reporter, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) who unexpectedly enters the serious world of network news after humble beginnings covering sport for local television. Grunick has little talent but, nevertheless, gets to the top extremely quickly.
It would seem that I have spoiled the film but as the movie spoils itself in its opening scenes, I don't think that makes an awful lot of difference. This is one of several flaws in an otherwise enjoyable film.
The three central characters in the film of Grunick, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) are introduced at the start as children and already their personal traits are firmly established. The fatal mistake is that the opening tells the audience the destiny of each character. It does this in an attempt to make a witticism about talent counting for little and style triumphing over substance. However, this is unnecessary as this point is made continually throughout the whole film and it therefore detracts from much of the drama and supposed uncertainty about each of their careers particularly in the latter half of the story.
The other flaws have one thing in common, Holly Hunter.
She completely ruined this film for me.
When she makes her first appearance, speed-walking into work, I knew her role would irritate, I just had no idea how much. It could be said that this is down to an irritating character being performed very well.
Her mannerisms really are irritating, her acting is irritating and, most of all, her voice is like listening to someone running their fingernails down a blackboard.
Although you hear her voice in 'The Piano' it is somehow fitting that for that particular film, she scooped the best actress awards at the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the Cannes Film Festival playing a mute.
There are two very poor scenes, one with Grunick and Craig in a hotel room on the night they first meet that has no narrative flow. Incidentally, it is impossible to believe that the shallow Tom Grunick's feelings for her could ever extend beyond respect for being good at her job.
The other scene takes place on Grunick's first day when we are given an example of what he has let himself in for (even though we KNOW he's going straight to the top). The team is frantically trying to complete a piece in time for the evening news and we are treated to Joan Cusack screaming with anxiety, sounding as if she is going into labour and Hunter being as irritating as ever.
The audience is also subjected to some pretty feeble attempts at manipulation. How on earth can Tom Grunick be handed the position of emergency anchorman when we have examples of how clever Aaron Altman is where he not only sings in fluent French but he can also sing whilst reading 'The Fall of Mussolini'? However, these are ONLY a few poor moments in a good film that would have been much better if the aforementioned scenes had been changed and if an actress such as Frances McDormand had played Hunter's role.
The film also fails to make us believe that Holly Hunter is attractive. When her character sees Altman, just as she is ready to go to a correspondent's dinner, Altman says 'you look like this porcelain thing, you look beautiful'. In actual fact, she looks like a six year old girl who, when alone in the house, has raided her parents' wardrobe and dressed up like 'mommy'.
There is one possibility, though. Maybe we were being invited to laugh at how ridiculous she looked and director James L Brooks was being far more subtle and cunning in his criticism of Holly Hunter than I am. If this is the case, then this film is one of the shining beacons of the 80's and I take back everything I have said. Leaving Holly Hunter to one side (which is probably the best place for her), the terrific William Hurt merely has to look good in order to succeed, just like the character he is playing. 'Broadcast News' was made during the most successful stage of his career ('Children of a Lesser God', 'The Accidental Tourist' and the wonderful 'Kiss of the Spiderwoman') and this is by far his least demanding role of that period.
So the acting plaudits for this film must go to Albert Brooks as the wise-cracking, talented but doomed Aaron Altman. Although his is the supporting role of the three, he has the most difficult part. He is excellent, maybe not Oscar-worthy, but certainly more deserving than Sean Connery who won the award for playing an Irishman with a Scottish accent.
Final tip for maximum enjoyment of this film: you should buy a copy of the screenplay before seeing the movie and press mute every time Ms Hunter opens her mouth