Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Retro Review: NETWORK (1976)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we review the prophetic 1976 Sidney Lumet classic NETWORK.

My gosh, what an excellent, powerhouse film Network is! It is also remarkable how it is just as poignant today as it was back in 1976.

The satire is timeless and, judging by the direction the world is going in, it will always be. The destruction of genuine news broadcasting is even more prevalent today and, to be honest, I think Network should be required viewing for anyone interested in journalism/media in any form and, of course, for film fans because it is a damn good movie!

Sidney Lumet's direction is near perfect. He directs this film at a breakneck pace, but always finds time to breathe and room for the heavy plot to simmer in the audience's mind. The editing is seamless. I am sure the editing of Network is taught in film schools. Oh, and the script is masterful! Paddy Chayefsky's script is in the Writers Guild of America's top 10 scripts of all time, and for good reason. The structure is brilliant, the story escalates perfectly, and the dialogue is razor-sharp, quotable and a joy to hear spoken by incredible actors. Man, whoever cast this movie deserves a medal, more on the cast in a bit.

Plot wise, the film is brilliant. It is executed to perfection. Each act escalates, thanks to the aforementioned Chayefsky script, which I like in plot heavy films. Network definitely is in the plot heavy camp.

Now, onto the heavyweight champions of 1976 acting...

The performances are some of the best in cinema, with Faye Dunaway delivering what I now consider the best performance by an actress in a motion picture I have ever seen. It has one of the best ensembles ever, with Peter Finch, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, and Marlene Warfield all giving stellar performances. Finch, Duvall and Warfield especially so. The characters the actors play are rich, interesting, and engaging. What is so interesting is that the core characters are morally complex in one way or another.

Dunaway's character, Diana, is cold, emotionally distant, calculating, ratings hungry, and doesn't care who she puts on the air as long is they get high ratings. Yet she still has a humane side. She loves Singing In The Rain, as suggested by the poster hanging in her apartment, and anyone who likes Singing In The Rain has to have good qualities to them, right? Also, she loves someone, or at least the idea of someone, albeit for a short period of time. That someone was William Holden's character Max, a overall genuine man who has the moral high ground surrounding Beale throughout the film. Yet he cheated on his wife and he fell for Diana, probably for the same reason Diana fell for him (what they represented to one and other). And his friend, madman Howard Beale, I wouldn't say is morally complex, but he is definitely a complex character.            

Beale is one of the best characters in cinema. He is a bonkers and frustrated man who, I think, Chayefsky and Lumet consider to be the representative of the audience. We are all frustrated with life sometimes. Sometimes we don't care what people think of us. Sometimes we want to shout from the rooftops ''I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Peter Finch gave a remarkable performance and became the first actor to receive a posthumous Oscar as he sadly passed away before the film was released. R.I.P. Peter Finch.

This theme of morality/immorality really evoked a strong reaction from me, I thought about whether Diana was a good person deep down or not? Had the job consumed her like Max thought it had? I thought about how badly the big corporations treat people like Beale, a man who truly needed help, but the higher ups saw him only as a cow who had to be milked. I think a thoughtful dialogue should be had amongst fans of this film about said themes and as you can see by my rating below, I consider myself a fan of Network who will definitely be discussing the themes of Network and the message Lumet and Chayefsky set out to convey.

If I was to gripe, I'd say Max and Diana's relationship isn't as fleshed out as it could have been. But the actors do such a great job at convincing the audiences that they are in love with one and other, I can forgive it.

Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky crafted a brilliant, rich, important, forward thinking, ambitious, and meticulous satirical-drama, that showcases some of the very best acting of the 20th century. This will forever be one of the greatest American films ever made, no, in-fact it is one of the greatest films ever made, period.

Sammy's Score: 10/10

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