by Natasha Theobald
Does anyone remember watching CNN before the first U.S. war in Iraq? Truth be told, no one really was watching it. But, Bush, the first, drew a line in the sand, and, all of a sudden, we wanted news when it happened. We wanted the coverage available and fresh 24 hours a day. Someone was there to give it to us, too - CNN. This is the story of that time as told by the producer (in his book) who was there in the thick of it, Robert Wiener. Fascinating, dramatic, and all the more interesting for being about something most of us were here to witness firsthand, the movie features great performances and a compelling story made all the more daunting by its aim at one man's truth.Michael Keaton stars as Wiener, a straightforward guy looking for a big story to tell. He is joined by a team which includes another producer, Ingrid Formanek (Helena Bonham Carter), a camera guy, Mark Biello (Joshua Leonard), the sound person, Judy Parker (Lili Taylor), as well as a slew of on-air talent from Tom Murphy (Michael Cudlitz) and Richard Roth (Hamish Linklater) to Peter Arnett (Bruce McGill) with his cameraman Nic Robertson (Matt Keeslar), Bernard Shaw (Robert Wisdom) and John Holliman (John Carroll Lynch). I mention all of their names, because I think they have probably earned it. Pamela Sinha plays their Egyptian interpreter, Fatima.
"Reporting from the heart of conflict."
The crew arrives with the threat of war looming in the near distance. They deal with Naji Al-Nadithi (David Suchet), the minister of information, requesting interviews which will be denied and equipment which will be delayed. After feeling used, more than once, in furthering the Iraqi agenda, Wiener and company decide to stand firm and try to tell stories they want to tell without getting booted from the country in the process. Eventually, they earn some respect as the only international news source and are given more access, including an interview with Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) himself. They also are given the equipment which will provide a direct link to Atlanta, so when the phone lines are bombed, they are still able to report through the night, which they do.
It is always interesting to see how a docudrama will be played, because most of the audience (we hope) knows something about what happens. This one chooses to give us intelligent, full characters about whom we may grow to care. We also are made privy to some inside information, the types of machinations behind the scenes which affect the way the news is reported to us, particularly from a foreign land with a differing viewpoint. It is probably important to view this as one man's account, although one may consider most of history the same. Even so, it is an intriguing story filled with tension, drama, and even a bit of suspense.
The cast is remarkable, but the man in front of it all must truly be commended. Michael Keaton has made a career of playing regular guys willing to reach out, be candid, and get things done. I had forgotten how much I love him in such a role and was grateful to mark his return to it. He does an amazing job of giving the man, Robert Wiener, complexity and humanity, humor and ardor. With his great performance at the center, the characters given less time are able to fall easily into place in his universe.With the weight of familiar history told from another's experience, this film manages still to entertain and, perhaps, to offer some insight into another dimension of history as it happens, the way it is reported to us, and the limitations and luxuries to which our news is tied.
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originally posted: 03/25/04 00:56:40