Film Reviews

The Paper Delivers

Two minor characters, veteran reporters on a big-city newspaper, are battling over turf on a late-breaking crime story. "You got the cops," one asserts while looking for agreement from the metro editor, "I got the poignant shit." This throwaway moment of dedication and cynicism is only one of many that The Paper gets right.

A day in the pressure-cooker life of a New York Post-type tabloid, The Paper is a rich ensemble piece. Hot on a scoop, metro editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) works to expose a major scandal and free two innocent youths charged with murder. Bean-counting managing editor Alicia Clark (Glenn Close), who believes that the media only has to be right for a day, works to remind him that if he doesn't verify his source and meet his deadline, the front-page headline will read "Gotcha!," not "They Didn't Do It." Crack reporter Martha Hackett (Marisa Tomei), hugely pregnant and reluctantly on maternity leave, is on hand to lobby her husband to take a high-paying job from a snooty New York Times-like headhunter (Spalding Gray). Hackett would like some advice from grizzled editor Bernie White (Robert Duvall), but with an estranged daughter and "a prostate the size of a bagel," he's no father figure. Co-worker McDougal (Randy Quaid), a Lone Ranger columnist gone paranoid, doesn't exactly offer brotherly love.

The calming influence on all this freneticism is director Ron Howard, who has proven himself with similar character tapestries Cocoon and Parenthood. Whatever the context -- retirement communities, family gatherings, newspaper offices -- Howard, with his actor's sympathies, elicits full, human comedy-drama. All the performances here, especially Keaton's stressed-out integrity, are completely realized.

Though the movie cheats a bit by compressing all life's important decisions into a single workday and Hackett's marital dilemmas into choosing between dinner with the in-laws or meeting a contact, it's still a lot of fun. It's fun not in the least because of cameos, from Jason RobardsÕ 180-degree Ben Bradlee spin to the likes of Pete Hamill and Liz Smith hacking away as themselves. There's genuine tension (and lots of wisecracking) in The Paper's rush to meet a deadline -- a pursuit that, the movie suggests, applies to all of us. In typical Hollywood fashion, when the film's New York Sun hits the streets, it opens up the metaphor even further, when a deadline also becomes a lifeline.

-- Peter Szatmary

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Peter Szatmary