Movie Review: Network
Director: Sydney Lumet
Reviewed: 13 September 2014
Network is a film that I knew the famous scene from far before I ever watched it. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" has entered the pop culture lexicon, and Network's Peter Finch, bedraggled and soaked with rain, often shows up in montages at the Academy Awards. I would place it in the category of science fiction almost, as it presents a future that mirrors the world that we live in today. It stands among films like The Social Network and The Truman Show for its prescience and its close look at the modern media world. I found it upsetting and a brilliant work of art.
When Howard Beale (Peter Finch) an aging news anchor announces that he's going to kill himself on the air in one week's time, the network gets the best ratings it has ever had. Network executive Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) allows himself to be convinced by voracious producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) that airing the angry, ranting old commentator in an unfiltered, raw way will turn the audiences towards them. Beale is part Old Testament prophet, part cultural critic; think comedian Lewis Black in the modern era but more abrasive and shocking. Beale's friend and producer Max Schumacher (William Holden) finds himself embroiled in keeping his friend on the air, contemplating the effects of his on air mental breakdown, and his own midlife crisis when confronted by Diana. Everything comes together as Christensen attempts to use real life crime footage to spur a television series, a preview of some of the lunacy currently presented on today's networks.
The film offers a unique look into the creation of the television show and schedule with ruthless board meetings and over the top satire of how far the media will go for ratings. Dunaway's character stops at nothing and uses everything in her power to acquire media success. Finch's performance of a man losing his grip seems appropriately wide-eyed and cagey. I liked William Holden's performance quite a bit as a producer whose life spirals out of control with the events of the story. Lumet's work as a director here is so incredibly focused: he lets his actors have long scenes; we see the inner workings of the television studio instead of just the glossy lights; and the ruthlessness of the upper echelons of power inside of a corporation are chilling. I think the film has a relevance to our world today besides being deeply, often acidly funny.
We live in Network's world, and as for being mad as hell? Perhaps we have enough channels and Howard Beales to finally satiate us? Highly recommended.