Rob Edelman: Not “Fake News”

Feb 12, 2018

Two current, high-profile films tell fact-based stories that are set in decades past, but each offers sobering truths about our present-day culture. Both feature characters who are well-known, who are name brands. Some are good guys: individuals who are honorable and responsible, and are deserving of our utmost admiration. Others, meanwhile, are out-and-out villains: individuals who are deeply, sadly flawed. They are self-absorbed. They are greedy. They are, at their core, not to be envied. In this regard, both films reflect on some real-world truths.

The first is ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, which centers on the 1973 kidnapping of the adolescent grandson of billionaire J. Paul Getty. Given his notoriety, the senior Getty may be blindly admired by the masses for the size of his wallet. For after all, how many of us would love to relish his riches? But at its core, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is a portrait of a wealthy man-- in fact, the world’s then-richest man-- who is more concerned with the size of his wallet and the sum of his material possessions than with the life and survival of his grandson. And onscreen, the senior Getty is depicted as genuinely liking the teenager. So who exactly is J. Paul Getty? What are his values? Why does he respond in the way he does to his grandson’s plight? How might those in the audience view him, and relate to him?   

(By the way, Christopher Plummer plays the billionaire and, in case you haven’t heard, in the weeks before the film’s premiere, Plummer replaced the just-disgraced Kevin Spacey in the role. Given our present-day politics, would Plummer earn kudos and awards not so much for his spot-on acting but as a dig at Kevin Spacey? One also has to wonder: What will the future be, professionally-speaking, for Kevin Spacey, a two-time Academy Award winner?)

Then there is THE POST, which also is set in the 1970’s. THE POST is an account of the manner in which the Washington Post covered the reporting of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, as well as the pressures faced by the paper’s decision-makers. Two top-of-the-A-list stars appear. Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the paper’s publisher. Tom Hanks is cast as Ben Bradlee, its editor.

THE POST is an homage to journalistic gallantry and the significance of the free press in these United States. In this regard, it echoes SPOTLIGHT, the Best Picture Academy Award-winner of 2015. In SPOTLIGHT, of course, Boston Globe staffers uncover and report on the child molestation and whitewashing that ripped apart the town’s Catholic Archdiocese. Both SPOTLIGHT and THE POST mirror what, these days, Donald Trump surely would write off as being “fake news.” But of course, they are not “fake news”-- in any way!

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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