It's all in the timing.
When the folks at HBO set out to make a film based on CNN producer
Robert Weiner's experiences covering The Gulf War, they had
no clue that the perfect marketing opportunity was about to
knock. At most, they could have hoped for continuing conflict
in the Middle East. But no, the got a scene similar to the film's
opening -- the United States considering entering into a war
HBO moved the launch date of the film to December 7. The United
Nations, not one to miss a co-branding opportunity, set their
deadline for an Iraqi weapons declaration on December 8. Saddam
Hussein, not wanting to be late for the premier I guess, handed
his document over on the 7th. What a spotlight hog!
Even without this setting, you can't help but be drawn in by
the film depicting the early days of CNN on the brink of the
story of a lifetime.
The film follows the CNN crew as they go to Baghdad to chase
down the story. They get sand kicked in their face by NBC, BBC
and every other respectable news agency at the time. They are
told repeatedly to go back to where they belong, and they have
no chance. In the end, they win the Little League championship
and go to the World Series... Oh wait... Sorry, I got distracted
and tuned into the The Bad News Bears on TBS (which
is also a property of AOL Time Warner).
CNN producer and Baghdad away team leader, Robert Weiner, is
played by Michael Keaton. After seeing Live From Baghdad
and The Paper I want to sign up for the Michael
Keaton Shool of Journalism. Courses would include Advanced Smirking,
Stealing Exclusives, and Aerobic Drinking.
Helena Bonham Carter is lovely as the chain-smoking producer
Ingrid Formaneck. Her roles as an ape (as in Planet of
the ...) and a socio/psychopath (Fight Club)
have prepared her well for her role as a CNN producer.
Then of course, there are the big three: Arnett, Shaw, and
Holliman. Robert Wisdom is no Bernard Shaw. But then of course,
nobody is. Wisdom misses the mark, but no one can capture the
Zen that is Bernie. Bruce McGill, however, managed to find his
inner Peter Arnett and hang out of windows with the best of
them. John Carroll Lynch gives a sensitive and funny performance
as the late, great John Holliman.
Two actors who have been overlooked by the mainstream media
in this production put in fabulous performances. We don't know
their names, but they do and excellent job playing two of the
films most important roles: the back of Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein's head and the eyes of U.S. President George Bush I.
Such emotion... Such feeling. Also look for Lili Taylor who
does a great job. Who cares if her character never existed in
Which brings up an interesting point. The movie seems to fluctuate
at times from the insanely accurate to the totally fabricated.
They nail certain details while completely adding others. It
would be as if you were to make a film about the Abraham Lincoln's
day at Gettysburg and completely recreate what he had for breakfast
that morning, including the actual silverware and tablecloth,
but mention that he actually ate that breakfast with his three-headed
alien dog Skippy.
All in all, the film is a great ride. They fabulously recreate
the now historic CNN broadcast that had viewers across the nation
glued to their sets. The crazy personalities of the CNN staffers
provide for great laughs and a few poignant moments.
Though the actions of the CNN team members sometimes seem exaggerated
and over-the-top, having met some of the people involved (I
work there, you see), believe me: the real folks are even crazier.
Next time I see Mark Biello around the office I will have to
ask him how it feels to be played by one of the kids from The
Blair Witch Project.