Picks and Pans Review: Broadcast News

updated 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Drum roll...ta-da! The best and most perceptively hilarious movie of the year has arrived. It's about the decline of Western civilization, but director-writer-producer James L. Brooks (in his first film since 1983's Terms of Endearment) has told his story as a howlingly comic modern romance. Still, there's a sting in every comic line. You'll cry laughing. His setting is an unnamed network's Washington bureau. Brooks, a CBS newswriter in the '60s, sides with the bright, frazzled grunts in the newsroom trenches (which he proved as a creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show). They are the ones trying to hold on to the nobility of their jobs amid brutal staff cutbacks and firings by executives seeking bigger ratings and profits. The network has just hired a new anchor (William Hurt), an airheaded pretty boy who doesn't read the news as much as act it. Hurt weeps shamelessly on camera, interviews world leaders he's never heard of and editorializes on issues he doesn't understand. Of course the jerk is an instant hit. (One of his tips for camera credibility: Sit on the tail of your jacket so the collar doesn't bunch up in back.) Hurt is sensational in a difficult role. With seductive charm, he shows how dangerous a shallow man in an influential position can be. Albert (Lost in America) Brooks, wonderful as a dedicated reporter with zero camera presence, sees Hurt as the devil, out to lower standards and "get all the great women." Hurt even entices the woman Brooks loves, a workaholic producer played by the beguiling Holly (Raising Arizona) Hunter. She has trouble combining work, sex and integrity; in her few moments alone she has sobbing fits. It's easy to care for this trio of crazies without harboring any hope that they could ever find personal contentment. In award-worthy performances, Hurt, Hunter and Brooks polish a brilliant script to a high gleam. Director Brooks also draws strong work from Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles and Joan Cusack as other newsroom denizens. But Brooks hits a jackpot with Jack Nicholson's cameo as the godlike New York anchor Hurt is being groomed to replace. Nicholson's face registering panic at the suggestion that he take a cut in his hefty salary to save jobs is a joy-forever movie moment. For all its high spirits, though, Broadcast News is sounding an alarm to a nation that wants its news delivered sitcom style. Believe, if you want, the disclaimer that this movie is a fiction with no relation to real events. You won't watch Rather, Jennings or Brokaw in the same way again. (R)

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