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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 32.35%
Average: 5.88%
Pretty Bad: 2.94%
Total Crap: 2.94%

1 review, 28 user ratings

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by MP Bartley

"Yesterday's news."
4 stars

Some films are unavoidably of their time, and Network is one such example. There are many things to admire about it and that still stand up to this day, but its overriding message - that TV execs are EEEEEEEEVIL - isn't likely to elicit more than a "Yeah, and?" from most people.

Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has just wrote himself a career suicide note as a long-standing TV anchorman. Blithely announcing to the millions of viewers that watch him that he's fed up with all the bullshit he has to spout, he announces that on his next show he'll be committing suicide live on air. Of course, this enrages TV executive Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) who orders Howard's best friend, and fellow exec Max Schumacher (William Holden) to take him off the air immediately. This he does, but only until ambitious and grasping producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) comes around after seeing the ratings, sniffing a hit in the making. Soon, Howard is back on the air, reborn as some kind of evangelist with a whole show given over to his rantings on society; as Max, Diana and Frank let their personal and work lives collide and explode.

Network was not the first and certainly won't be the last film to prod a stick at the messy ethics of both TV in general and the manufacturing of news within it, only to find it's a system as corrupt as any other. The fact that Howard is clearly mentally unstable is by the by - the viper-esque Diana only has eyes for the prize of a huge hit, while Frank sees Howard as a stepping-stone on his way up the career ladder and a chance to hit back at the ones who have impeded his career thus far. Even the more sympathetic Max loses focus on the plight of his friend when he jumps into bed with Diana both figuratively and literally. Although Howard becomes the star of the show, it's a film that finds its heart in the slumpy and tired Max. A giant in his day, there's a sadness to him watching new, younger, fitter and faster people speeding by him in the profession, making the news in a world he doesn't really have a heart to engage in. Even his affair with Diana seems mechanistic and soulless - he may well profess feelings for her, but they're feelings tinged with a resignation to failure. For all its jibes at the media, Network is, at heart, a story about age and failure.

Lumet has the knack of taking potentially dry material like this and elevating it into something cinematic - no-one else films a conversation scene quite like him, and the film is most alive when he hones in on arguments, rants and disagreements between the characters. The film also stands as a neat example of the old guard and the new generation of Hollywood actors crossing paths - Holden and Finch on one side, Dunaway and Duvall on the other. It gives it an extra pinch of poignancy to see the handsome Holden as rundown and wheezy as he is here, and if it's his last great performance then he knows it. He fills Max with the tired sigh of a prize fighter on his last legs and while Finch's wide-eyed loon won the Oscar and seizes on his dialogue with relish, venting his rants with a righteous fury; it's Holden's quietly sad-eyed performance that ultimately resonates longer.

With the dialogue and Lumet's focused direction it's an actor's dream of a movie. Dunaway also won the Oscar and rips into every scene she's in, as the ultimate careerist - even in sex she has to be in control and only for as long as she needs to be. Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight turn up for two scenes as the head of the network and Max's betrayed wife respectively and make enough impact in their limited time to also earn Oscar nominations - or in Straight's case, to win one. And then there's Duvall - the unluckiest actor out of the lot of them, as the only one overlooked by Oscar, even if it's a turn likely to rank high in his considerable CV.

And yet, and yet...despite the quality of acting, despite the intelligence seeping from every frame of Lumet's direction; Network never quite makes the leap from an outstanding film to a truly great film. This is partly because Chayefsky's script never really truly finds a human core to the story. We never feel for Howard's plight because we never see him pre-breakdown and his actual breakdown is represented as a necessary plot cog rather than a real mental illness of a real character. Likewise, no-one else is ever particularly likeable and while that's not a necessity for film, it does mean that scenes such as Max spelling out his feelings for first his wife and then Diana, ultimately ring hollow. There's a feeling for the flow and the structure of the words from Chayefsky, but not enough broken-hearted or raging emotion behind them. It's an amusing, occasionally poignant, occasionally bitterly witty film, but the drama never truly dazzles, or bites, or captivates. It's success rests squarely on the shoulders of its actors, giving their all to find something or someone to care about in the messy world we're presented with.

Ultimately Network is a film that does not say anything new or insightful anymore. Maybe it did in 1976, but in 2011 when TV gleefully shows Charlie Sheen's meltdown amongst many other celebrity or reality shows, Network's final attempt at a shocking, black joke is just a little bit muted.

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originally posted: 03/20/11 00:35:16
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User Comments

4/23/18 Anne Powerful sature, condemnation of corrupt TV news/programming system 4 stars
3/09/15 stanley welles a hilarious, well-crafted and disturbingly prophetic look at the silliness of t.v news 4 stars
8/17/12 Mark Vanselow "TV execs are evil" is NOT its big message. Where's Laureen Hobbs? Top film, poor review. 5 stars
6/08/10 Flathead King This film should have won the best picture oscar in 1976. A clever and amusing film. 5 stars
8/20/09 Jeff Wilder To the 70s what Dr. Strangelove was to the 60s. 5 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White satisfying tale 4 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold If there is ever a time when it's possible, this film is ideal for ALL moods! 5 stars
11/04/06 R.W.Welch Prescient send-up of TV that gets more apropos with time. 5 stars
11/05/05 Unrealistic dialogue and overacting aside, it's an excellent drama. Indrid Cold 5 stars
10/13/05 millersxing Not as evolved a critique as Bamboozled, but still clever and satisfying 4 stars
7/07/05 sbpat21 a masterpiece 5 stars
12/03/04 Phil M. Aficionado Too over the top unrealistic, with a stilted script and stereotypes galore; superficial 3 stars
9/26/04 Imitate a Red Sox Fan WAAAY ahead of its time and even more timely than when it came out 5 stars
3/19/04 The Guru Ahead of it's time. Sad to say, we're right where the movie said we're going. 5 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Brilliant writing and superb performances all around. 5 stars
4/08/03 Jack Sommersby Another typical Paddy Chayefsky blowhard crap-fest. 1 stars
3/26/03 mr. Pink The actors, especially Dunawaye, elevate a great script to even greater heights. 5 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum Finch is the only reason to watch this TV news ego orgy 2 stars
12/12/01 Monster W. Kung Overrated. Let's face it, many characters are just unbearable idiots. 3 stars
12/09/01 Andrew Carden Very Good Movie...but 9 To 5 Is The Superior Working Comedy. 4 stars
12/08/01 Boomshanka Out of control good. A true masterpiece and still relevant today. 5 stars
6/30/01 Pop will eat itself awesome! 5 stars
6/03/01 Erik North Still as provocative as ever--and now much closer to reality than ever before! 5 stars
5/21/01 anonymous mastermind holy shit this is good.They don't satires like they use to... 5 stars
5/16/01 Dustin frighteningly prophetic of the decline of integrity in TV journalism 5 stars
4/23/01 Skip Young One of the best. Worth searching out. 5 stars
3/31/01 Spetters A fucking classic!!!! and this movie was ahead of its day!! 5 stars
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  02-Sep-1976 (R)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006



Directed by
  Sidney Lumet

Written by
  Paddy Chayefsky

  Faye Dunaway
  William Holden
  Peter Finch
  Robert Duvall
  Ned Beatty
  Wesley Addy

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