Some recent releases (including the March 17 newcomer “Boston Strangler”) some older films and one western classic have been added to our growing Journalism Movies Ranked list.
The unprecedented compendium now names and reviews 170 flicks. To find out where these rank on our list, visit here.
If you just want to see what’s new to the list, check them out below.
Boston Strangler (2023). This Hulu thriller may get lost in the endless sea of streaming true-crime content, but it deserves to shine — especially as an empowering piece of women’s history. Keira Knightley stars as Loretta McLaughlin, the Boston Record American reporter who beat her male counterparts to the punch in breaking the story of the titular 1960s murderer. Carrie Coon co-stars as Jean Cole, who joined forces with McLaughlin to track the killer and challenge Boston city authorities along the way. Writer-director Matt Ruskin captures not only the era’s professional tension between men and women but the timeless tug-of-war between journalists and the justice system. Meanwhile, Knightley and Coon poignantly convey the sisterhood they feel between each other and the victims whom they pledge to avenge. Bonus: Chris Cooper delivers a compelling performance as their stern yet supportive editor. “Boston Strangler” borrows a bit from “Zodiac” in its exploration of obsession, but it’s nonetheless effective in knocking the wind out of you when its heroines pursue promising paths only to find dead ends. Sure, as far as true-crime / journalism dramas go, this is well-worn territory. But it’s a good story, well told. (SW)
Line of Fire (aka Darklands) (2023). “My life is not your entertainment!” screams a small-town Australian cop faulted for failing to intervene in a school shooting. She’s bellowing at a past-her-prime blogger who has pushed too hard on both a lucrative interview with the cop and a profitably punitive perspective about her lack of action. That the exclamation comes as the cop ensnares the blogger in a plot of kidnapping and murder and illustrates the film’s interest in exploitative escalation over a story of everyday people faced with awful choices. As sensitive first-act observations shift to supreme outrageousness, it’s like watching “Changing Lanes” morph into “Law Abiding Citizen.” But, as Aussie pulp often does, “Line of Fire” just hits harder, with a commendable commitment to incredibly bleak bits about whether grief finds you falling apart … or pulling together something deeper and darker inside of you. There are also decent-enough hooks about glass ceilings and social expectations for professional women, as well as a dearth of diplomacy in a world of digital-first communication. If it errs anywhere, it’s in a lack of character complexity for the blogger — whose pure profit motives let the cop off the hook for all her dirty deeds by proxy. (NR)
Blacklight (2022). This AARP “Eraser” represents a ceiling for the action movies Liam Neeson once swore he was done with, benefiting from low expectations and the reasonable simulation of a soul for Neeson’s character – an FBI fixer embroiled in a conspiracy concerning the assassination of an ambitious congressional candidate. He also becomes the proxy protector of Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampmann), the scooter-driving, dog-walking D.C. reporter suspicious of the official story. Points to “Blacklight” for not pushing Mira to the periphery; she’s essentially the film’s co-lead even if she’s reliant more on caffeinated editorial assistants and convenient coincidence than investigative verve. Dings for the narrative muscles pulled to push Mira’s story-stealing soccer-fanatic editor into danger and title-metaphor dialogue in desperate need of a copy desk: “Take note of the obvious and then scrutinize what the obvious obscures, like an ultraviolet light illuminating what the naked eye can’t see.” It’s no “democracy dies in darkness,” but much like “Blacklight,” it ticks the box. (NR)
The Escort (2015). This film wants to have its cake and eat it too — sharply poking fun at both sex addiction and prostitution, while ultimately aiming to win your affection as a tender drama. Co-writer Michael Donegar stars as Mitch, a sex-addicted journalist who seemingly finds the woman of his personal and professional dreams when he meets Victoria, a Stanford-educated escort. Hoping to earn a job at a high-profile magazine by telling her story, Mitch tags along on her various trysts. Of course, romantic tension ensues. “The Escort” clumsily connects the commodified intimacy of prostitution to that of magazine interviews. And it also stumbles while exploring the idea of reporters falling in love with their subjects. That’s probably because Donegan, co-writer Brandon A. Cohen and director Will Slocombe maintain the breezy tone of a made-for-TNT movie and try to balance the more earnest dramatic moments with awkward strokes of broad comedy, like the casting of Bruce Campbell as Mitch’s rich-hippie father. A great piece of journalism can drum up suspense even in the inevitable, but by the time this film ends exactly as you expect it will, you’ll feel nothing but relief that it’s over. (SW)
Headline Hunters (1955). A scrappy young writer in over his head and seeking justice via byline. A cynical old reporter who’s seen too much to care. An editor who just wants to get his paper published despite the fevered egos he’s forced to manage. Sound familiar? “Headline Hunters” plays all the genre hits in a tidy tale of two men forced to realize just what it means to be an ace reporter. Recent graduate David Flynn (Ben Cooper) arrives in the big city ready to make a name for himself. He quickly stumbles into a murder conspiracy that goes all the way to the D.A.’s office — but nobody will listen to him! Not even Hugh Woodruff (Rod Cameron), the newspaper’s most celebrated reporter. Can he save the life of an innocent man using the power of words? This is standard fare, but at least it features colorful dialogue like, “We can make an awful lot of noise with a duet — and I’ve brought the music!” (ED)
Rush Week (1989). Journalism and horror genres rarely intersect as they do in “Rush Week,” a reasonably entertaining if not particularly esoteric late-1980s slasher film. Nubile young coeds at Tambers College, home of the Tornadoes, are being slaughtered by a masked, berobed murderer using a double-bladed executioner’s axe. Newly transferred Tori (Pamela Ludwig) is assigned to write about the Greek system’s rush week for the cleverly named “Tornado Watch” student newspaper. Naturally, Tori winds up having to uncover the killer: Is it the perverted photographer? The creepy custodian? The sensitive stud? The dismissive dean? The film is an amusing time capsule of computer technology (oh, those green-screen CRTs!), brick-sized tape recorders and onscreen appearances by Gregg Allman (here as the paper’s faculty advisor, who’s often too busy meditating with topless women to shape a new generation of journalists). It’s so-so sleazy and modestly queasy, but the killer sports a fun ghoulish get-up, the red herrings are robust, there’s even a character named McGuffin. And Tori gets her story! (NR)
Balibo (2009). In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor (then Portuguese Timor), where occupying forces murdered five Australian reporters who were there to chronicle the political upheaval. Roger East, a fellow Australian, went in search of them and met a similar fate. All of these deaths were subject to massive public controversy — in large part due to cover-ups and the inaction of Australian leadership, which was concerned with angering the Indonesian government. “Balibo” is a graphic, intense depiction of journalists navigating a war zone where, although their credentials are meaningless, they continue to do the best they can. It brims with anger and frustration at the way they were disavowed by their home government and features great performances by Anthony LaPaglia as East and a young Oscar Isaac as future East Timor President José Ramos-Horta. (ED)
It Happened Tomorrow (1944). “News is what happens!” a newspaper editor says early in this movie, and that’s about all “It Happened Tomorrow” has to say about the nature of journalism. Instead, this charming fantasy centers around an everyman reporter played by a cheery Dick Powell, who’s given a newspaper that contains tomorrow’s news and uses it to try and win riches and romance. René Clair’s film isn’t some dark parable about greed, however, and is all the better for it. It’s light as a feather and goes down smooth, with a deeply satisfying and clever third-act twist that makes this mostly forgotten United Artists hit worth seeking out. (MR)
Shakedown (1950). Look no further as to how much journalism has changed in the past 70-plus years than the plot of 1950’s “Shakedown,” which centers on a man (Howard Duff) who gains wealth and notoriety as a *checks notes* newspaper photographer. Because this is a film noir, Duff’s character works his way up the journalistic ladder through grossly immoral means, placing anyone and everyone in danger for a stellar photo opportunity. More than 60 years later, Jake Gyllenhaal would play an even darker and more modernized version of this same character in “Nightcrawler,” but “Shakedown” still manages to shock today with a stark amorality that’s far nastier than your average noir. (MR)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Arguably the American western most deeply concerned with journalistic integrity, director John Ford’s black-and-white oater is also among the more chastely cynical films on this list. It insists upon the fourth estate’s influence toward a well-informed electorate and then inverts that with all the violence of a shootout by pinning its cult-of-personality pivot on a newspaper editor himself (perfectly played by Edmond O’Brien). The structural conceit also hinges on what the staff of the Shinbone Star intends to do with a tale told to them by all-star Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) – back in tiny Shinbone for the funeral of a friend (John Wayne) with whom his fate and fame has become more deeply intertwined than anyone suspects. Embodied by the immortal line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” their decision lends a firm, forlorn finality to a western that finds the power of the press on the gut-shot end of a duel for the soul of a nation. (NR)