On Dec. 16, 1987, 20th Century Fox unveiled the R-rated drama Broadcast News in limited release. The film went on to earn seven nominations at the 60th Academy Awards ceremony, including best picture. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
It used to be an industry tradition to have at least one good, old-fashioned romantic comedy out there for the holidays. Lately, the only consistent industry holiday tradition has been the heartless and capricious corporate pinkslipping that especially now soils this business.
Using a TV news bureau as his setting, James L. Brooks has combined these two disparate traditions in Broadcast News, a wonderfully funny yet trenchantly sober look at romance today. Its lackluster title aside, Broadcast News is just what the doctor ordered, a much-needed holiday elixir for both 20th Century Fox’s b.o. coffers as well as moviegoers’ spirits.
Broadcast News even has a joker up its sleeve, in the person of an uncredited star who’s all spruced up and neatly-pressed for an against-the-persona role as network anchorman … more on that, later.
Starring William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks, Broadcast News is no mere gift bag of modern men and women crammed into an out-of-date romantic comedy formula. Brooks has wound a tight tale of ’80s relationships, a story which spins and spills with all the chaotic rhythms and cross-currents of modern-day romances.
As the pop magazines tell us every third article or so, young workaholics don’t have time to cultivate relationships off the job — they hook up with people at work. This is tricky at best, and especially nuts if that workplace is a high-pressure network news bureau. Broadcast News perceptively shows that “the job” is as much a factor in their romantic lives as it is in their professional lives.
In Broadcast News, Hurt stars as a not-too-bright but tenacious news correspondent whose good looks and engaging manner have landed him on the fast track to an anchorman’s chair. He’s brought into the Washington bureau of a major network, much to the displeasure of two serious-minded and rising young talents, a writer/correspondent (Brooks) and a segment producer (Hunter).
As the two dedicated achievers, Brooks and Hunter are compulsive workaholics, neglecting their non-existent personal lives. They’re buddies, confidants and kindred spirits on the late-breaking front-lines. Both are rattled by their attraction to the other but they are too awkward to act on it. And, they both resent Hurt — Brooks out of professional pride and envy; Hunter out of professional pride and sexual frustration.
In the front-line intensity of the newsroom, romantic sparks invariably kindle between Hurt and Hunter, while professional differences sizzle between Hurt and Brooks. Clearly, Hurt’s good-looking but slow-thinking character is the catalyst in James L. Brooks’ brilliant and superbly modulated screenplay.
Natural flowing modern romance, Brooks shows, is full of stops, starts, spills and overturns — and, for his three main characters, it’s all upstream. Into the ebb and flow of his three dangling lovelines, Brooks has expertly hooked some low-key but lethal Network snipes at big-time network news. Zingers abound, perhaps none more prominent than the ringer on the team and Joker in the deck — mystery performer Jack Nicholson as the network’s powerful and avuncular anchorman.
Spiffed up and slicked back, Nicholson nails network superstars to the wall with his straight-on portrayal. Dashes of Brinkley, Cronkite and Rather glimmer in his mannerisms; all the while his own great and goofy aura naturally sabotages the all-knowing, deity-like status of network anchors. Dan Rather will find it even harder to find people who can keep a straight face the next time he expresses worker solidarity and joins a CBS picket line.
The performances are all 50 share. As the sincere and tenacious plodder who lucks out to the top, Hurt is magnificent. On the surface, Hurt’s role doesn’t seem to be as complex as many he has previously played, but his portrayal is quietly layered. He fits what seem to be contradictory qualities, dumb ambition and decency, into the fabric of a completely drawn character.
As the snippy, know-it-all segment producer, Hunter is cringingly convincing. One minute she’s a towering professional, barking orders at subordinates; the next minute, she’s a shriveling little girl, having a crying fit in the corner. As the professional success/personal failure, Hunter seems a veritable chapter-come-to-life of Smart Women, Foolish Choices.
As the talented but professionally thwarted news writer, Brooks is sensational, both vain and vulnerable (he even gets in a fantastic Arnold Schwarzenegger routine).
Joan Cusack, as the bureau’s hired-for-her-looks assistant director, and Lois Chiles, as the network’s pretty-face correspondent, smartly convey the insecurities lurking beneath their glamorous positions. In his role as news division chief, Peter Hackes is particularly chilling as a sycophantic hatchet man.
Technical credits are similarly reflective of the production’s warm, high level. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Dec. 4, 1987