Starring: William Holden, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway
Director: Sidney Lumet
Running Time: 121 mins
Network is an American film about a struggling TV station that exploits an ageing newscaster’s mental breakdown to increase ratings, while the takeover of the network by a bigger corporation causes tensions between its employees and complications in their personal lives.
This is an incredibly deep and intelligent drama, as well as a brilliantly enthralling black comedy. With an amazing screenplay, top-quality performances across the board, and a very well held-together plot, this is quite simply a fantastic film.
The story revolves around the theme that many modern movies, such as Nightcrawler and even Anchorman 2, talk about, the idea of the news and the media working for ratings over quality programming and even basic human morality.
However, in comparison to those films, this takes place right in the midst of the first big transition in news programming from bland television to exciting, bold shows, and looks at that in a very deep and important way.
In one respect, it shows the media heads as soulless, almost immoral people who work tirelessly for ratings and have little interest in being properly human. This is most evident in Faye Dunaway’s character, a relatively young head of programming whose brutal and strong desire for high ratings takes over her basic humanity.
Her relationship with William Holden’s older, more romantic character is where you see the difference in generations and the transition from being human to being corporate drones most clearly, and it’s by far one of the most interesting plots of the film. The way that the two clash over basic morals with regards to the exploitation of this old newscaster and the push for big TV ratings is as dramatic as anything, and thanks to the two excellent performances, it’s an absolute marvel to watch.
As well as that theme, the film also looks at the transitioning of the wider world from one divided by ‘nations and peoples’, as one character explains, to one that is a ‘holistic system of systems’, that is ‘immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate and multinational’, a thrillingly intriguing plot line that is still relevant to modern watchers, and one that is particularly original given it being released in the 1970s, when few Hollywood films before had dared to really go deep on the offence against big business.
To come up with such in-depth and captivating central themes, the writing here is fantastic, but the beauty of this screenplay is also that it takes on these ideas in an almost satirically prophetic way, presenting the characters as exaggeratively dehumanised, and the entire story as excessively apocalyptic, however that really does add to the entertainment value of it all too.
Overall, this gets an 8.5 from me, simply because of its brilliantly intelligent themes, great performances and stunning screenplay.