All the President’s Men, Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 hard–hitting film on the Watergate scandal, is often considered one of the quintessential odes to journalism in film. However, the past decade has seen many journalistic tributes come out of Hollywood, from Oscar–winner Spotlight to Wes Anderson’s newest work, The French Dispatch. Here are four of Street's favorites.
This Best Picture winner follows The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team—an investigative journalism unit—and their investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandal. One of Street’s favorite movies of the last decade, the film follows the investigation that would bring Catholic Church sexual abuse cases to national prominence. Its focus on the research of the team (the movie ends when the first article is published) shines a light on the necessity of long–form investigative journalism. This is a story with a tremendous impact, especially for Western culture, and Tom McCarty’s vigilant direction manages to create a compelling storyline without sensationalizing the hard work of the real–life story that serves as its muse.
Spotlight boasts a star–studded cast with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, whose subdued performances quietly embed emotion into the film, although there are a few tense outbursts given the innately shocking subject matter. It’s a story that makes a conscious effort to honor its inspiration and manages to do so well as a poignant tribute to the team that worked to bring this significant scandal to light.
Though Spotlight isn’t currently on streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, you can rent this blockbuster on Prime Video for $3.99—a small price to pay for this can’t–miss feature.
The Post (2017)
Stephen Spielberg’s historical political thriller The Post follows a team of reporters at The Washington Post as they work to publish the Pentagon Papers—a series of documents that revealed classified information on the Vietnam War. Set in 1971, the film tells the story of Katharine Graham—the first female publisher of The Washington Post—as she fights to print the documents amid pressure from the Nixon administration to withhold them from the public.
In a 2017 group interview with Street, Spielberg described his intentions for the work, saying, “I think it’s a standalone piece of reflective history about how this woman, Katharine Graham, came into her own and found her voice, finally, and [how] that voice led to a tremendous explosion of courage and faith in the free press.” His inspired take reflects the substance of the film, which reveals the lengths that reporters will go to in order to expose injustice.
The Post features Hollywood legends Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in leading roles that confirm their legend status even further. Spielberg is also a celebrated director, and for good reason: his compelling direction, which uses accelerated camera shots, morphs what perhaps is a tedious subject into an enthralling commentary on the media’s responsibility to the public.
Like Spotlight, The Post can be rented on Prime Video for $3.99.
Dark Waters (2019)
Another film starring Mark Ruffalo, your memory of this limited theatrical release may have faded in the wake of Spotlight and The Post; but its powerful dramatization of the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” is nonetheless praiseworthy. The film relays the story of a Cincinnati attorney, Robert Bilott, who works for the agency that represents DuPont, a powerful chemical company. However, he decides to take on an environmental suit for cattle farmer Wilbur Tennant, who believes that DuPont is responsible for his cows’ ailments. It’s most certainly underplayed with a formulaic quality to it, but Todd Haynes manages to save face with meaningful camera shots that reveal the uncertainties of such a case until the facts are brought to light.
That said, Dark Waters succeeds in that it manages to breathe fresh air into an overdone genre. It’s a potent depiction of a piece that deserves recognition and its actors, especially Mark Ruffalo and Bill Camp, give impressive and electrifying performances. Its ‘dark’ undertone speaks to the fact that one case will not win us back our future. DuPont is still a powerful company, and the continued recognition of that in the media is as important as ever.
Dark Waters is currently available to stream on Showtime.
The French Dispatch (2021)
The most recent entry on this list, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is an ode to The New Yorker in a multipart anthology. These vignettes are packaged as three past articles (plus an introduction and obituary) of the titular paper: ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’, ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’, and ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,’ which are to be republished in a final issue following the death of its editor. In what Street refers to as Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson film yet, there is no shortage of the filmmaker’s stylistic flair—there’s a certain whimsy to the signature vintage aesthetic and muted color palette that adds yet another masterful visual to Anderson’s extensive catalog.
A love letter to French culture, The French Dispatch extracts inspiration from New Yorker pieces on the May 68 student occupation protests and Lord Duveen, a Norwegian art dealer. What the story lacks in thematic coherence (these vignettes are only loosely connected) is made up for in eccentric performances from a star–studded cast with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Timothée Chalamet, Tilda Swinton, and Jeffrey Wright. Its format is undeniably attractive—it’s a magazine that incorporates print details right down to the subheads in the film—and a touching tribute to the voices behind an underappreciated art form, even if it lacks the compelling plot that you may expect from the filmmaker.
Released recently on October 22nd, 2021, it’s definitely worth a trip to your local theater.
Journalism is often referred to as a dying art form; however, these films emphasize precisely why that isn’t quite true, even if they’re set in the past. In fact, in our current political climate, it’s more essential than ever to shed light on a vital research process that plays an imperative role in our society today, even as the industry changes. These four films do just that—their dramatizations are timely commentaries on an art form that, in many ways, carries not only justice, but entertainment on its back, and are definitely worth a watch.