Movies About Journalists in the Line of Fire
During an unprecedented assault on the press in the United States, these situations look awfully familiar
Since Minneapolis erupted ten days that feels like ten years ago, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of violence against the press in the United States. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which tracks such things, has documented more than 300 crimes against journalists since the unrest began. THREE HUNDRED! These occurred in 33 states. This isn’t just the President bickering with millionaire clowns like Jim Acosta or Joe Scarborough. Four years of rhetoric of calling the media “the enemy of the American people” has come home to bloody roost.
In the last ten days, people have harassed, beaten, shot, arrested, gassed, or otherwise violated reporters, photographers, and camerapeople. A few of these incidents came at the hands of protesters or rioters, but police targeted the vast majority. The melée swallowed up many of the reporters, but you can’t blame it all on chaos. The CPJ estimates that in nearly 50 cases, police directly targeted the media. This is the most outrageous concentrated assault on press freedom in the history of the United States, and given that we have the freest press in history, probably in the history of the world.
But we are just a humble entertainment site, not The Nation magazine. So rather than blister you with endless statistics about police brutality and repression, we thought we’d present you with a list of movies about journalists caught up in violent times. Some of these movies are better than the others. After a while, they all start to seem like the same movie. And many of them weren’t very popular. After all, violence against the press is depressing. But when viewed together, they look a lot like American cities in the last few days. Syria, Kosovo, El Salvador, Baghdad. You would never have put Minneapolis on that list. But now you can.
Editors note: I have skipped The Killing Fields, which definitely features a journalist in trouble, because I wrote about that in a previous post on Movies About Socialism.
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
No one in their right mind would call Joel McCrea a good actor, but he gee-whizzes his way through this early Hitchcock war picture well enough. Written and filmed just as World War II was enveloping Europe, McCrea plays an idealistic reporter who gets in over his head with the intelligence community. Includes a thrilling and dangerous airplane crash scene over open seas.
The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982)
Probably the best movie on this list, Peter Weir’s sweeping romance, set during the Indonesian revolution in the 1980s, stars a pre-controversial Mel Gibson as a dashing young journalist who makes sexy love with Sigourney Weaver’s British diplomat. His naïveté breaks down when the Indonesian government starts murdering dissenters, and targeting reporters, including him. Linda Hunt won an Oscar for her extraordinary performance as a male photographer named Billy Kwan.
Under Fire (1983)
This is a pretty lousy movie, starring Nick Nolte and Joanna Cassidy, about the Nicaraguan revolution, It acted, at the time, as a sort of Reaganite commercial for Nicaragua’s brutal government. But it does feature a lot of thrilling scenes of American journalists under fire, which used to happen a lot in foreign countries that weren’t Minnesota.
This early Oliver Stone film manages to be a masterpiece of political moviemaking despite the fact that it stars James Woods and Jim Belushi. Woods plays a sleazy photographer, because most movie photographers are sleazy. He runs afoul of one of the most evil and repressive regimes of the 20th century.
Welcome To Sarajevo (1997)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, who later relaxed through several “Trip” movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, this is essentially the same movie as Salvador, but somewhat less didactic and set in the Balkans during the Bosnian conflict. Stephen Dillane, Stannis Baratheon himself, plays a British journalist palling around at the Holiday Inn with a dashing American photographer played by Woody Harrelson. Dillane becomes personally involved in the story and tries to rescue the residents of an orphanage from certain doom.
Live From Baghdad (2002)
This HBO film about CNN’s rise to prominence during the first Gulf War is a classic example of corporate synergy and hagiography. Journalists are always the heroes of their own stories, especially CNN journalists. Still, this is an exciting film, with typically charismatic turns from Michael Keaton and Helena Bonham-Carter, about a time when CNN really placed itself in danger. Perhaps Omar Jimenez can relate.
A Mighty Heart (2007)
An effective but terribly depressing film about the kidnapping and execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan during the heart of the War On Terror. Starring Angelina Jolie as his widow, Marianne. This kind of thing could never possibly happen in the United States of today.
A Private War (2018)
Rosamund Pike really goes for the Oscar hard as an eyepatch-wearing foreign correspondent with a passion for social justice and for putting herself in the most egregious danger possible. A non-annoying Jamie Dornan plays her photographer friend. Largely but not entirely set in Syria, which looks a lot like certain U.S. neighborhoods today.
Headlines don’t sell papers. Newsies sell papers. This terrifying turn-of-the-century drama stars Christian Bale as a young newsboy marked for death.
4 thoughts on “Movies About Journalists in the Line of Fire”
Whoa! Joel McCrea not a good actor? Check out his nuanced performances in dramas such as “Stars in My Crown” and comedies like “The More the Merrier” and “Sullivan’s Travels” (that the brilliant Preston Sturges wrote for McCrea).
He filled out the suit nicely and could do the snappy patter but come on, he didn’t have a ton of range.
McCrea would be the first to say he didn’t have a wide range but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good within his range. Add “Ride the High Country” to his fine acting. Many admirers, including Robert Osborne and Katherine Hepburn, are quoted as saying McCrea was one of the most underrated actors of his day.
Fair enough. I am rewatching Foreign Correspondent and enjoying it a lot. He’s far from my least-favorite actor.