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Laramie Movie Scope:
Mad City

A rare movie about the ethics of reporting

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 10, 1997 -- "Mad City" is one of those rare movies that takes a serious look at the ethics of reporting the news. While it is not up to par with the best of those films, such as "Broadcast News" and "Network," it does a pretty good job.

The film stars Dustin Hoffman as Max Brackett, the reporter, and John Travolta as Sam Bailey, a none-too-bright recently laid off security guard who accidentally shoots a fellow guard and sets off a hostage crisis. Brackett sees that Bailey is easily influenced and exploits the situation.

Brackett convinces Bailey that he needs to make his case directly to the public on television in order to gain sympathy and better treatment from the authorities. Brackett's plan seems to work at first as the public is sympathetic to Bailey's plight.

Then the situation deteriorates as Brackett's nemesis, a network anchor, Kevin Hollander (Alan Alda) tries to muscle in. Brackett soon looses control of the situation and tragic consequences follow. There are scenes which suggest Brackett had opportunities to grab Bailey's gun and put an end to the situation, but chose not to. Pursuit of the story and a job with the network get in the way of Brackett's better judgment.

Both Hoffman and Travolta are fine actors and they do a good job with the material. Robert Prosky plays the part of a station manager. It is a very similar role to the one he had in "Broadcast News." The story does go over the top at times. Some of the television footage is not subtle enough and some of the characters don't seem very steady. They change a little too much over time. The filmmakers can't seem to make up their mind about the Hoffman character. At times, he's ruthless, at other times he has compassion for those he's covering.

On the whole, however, the film does seem to have something to say about the tabloidization of broadcast news, about the manipulation of news and the disregard for victims. One scene where Brackett edits a videotaped interview to change its meaning is probably a revelation to many people outside the business.

It is surprising how few of these kinds of films there are, considering the importance of the media. Check on any talk show, the talking heads will tell you the media are to blame for every bad thing that happens in society, from the death of Princess Diana to the low test scores of high school graduates. If we're so all-powerful, how come there aren't more movies about us than there are about two-bit hoodlums?

I guess we in the news business must be grateful for the few films that come along that have something to do with the business. Perhaps if there were more of these films there wouldn't be so many people who are so ignorant about the business. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1997 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)