Overview: Sometimes referred to as the country’s “most dangerous editor,” Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee was largely credited with taking down President Richard Nixon in 1974 after the Post broke the Watergate story, exposing the largest political scandal in American history.
Told primarily in his own words, THE NEWSPAPERMAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN BRADLEE is an intimate portrait of this formidable man, tracing his remarkable ascent from a young Boston boy stricken with polio to one of the most pioneering and consequential journalistic figures of the 20th century.
Ben Bradlee’s career spanned the most critical moments of the second half of the 20th century. As a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in the ‘50s, Bradlee cut his teeth reporting from the frontlines of wars in the Middle East. In Washington, he befriended young Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy and later gained unprecedented access to the White House. By the ‘70s, he had transformed the Washington Post from an undistinguished local paper into a national powerhouse, publishing the “Pentagon Papers,” breaking Watergate and challenging the New York Times for supremacy.
Taking on the political establishment and ushering in a new era of investigative journalism, the tough-talking, chain-smoking Bradlee came to epitomize the modern newspaper editor. Today, when the First Amendment and the press are under constant attack, Bradlee’s fortitude in the face of withering criticism has never been more relevant.
Expectations: On occasion, it happens. I run into a topic that just does not win me over. It is not that I don’t like biographical documentaries it is just that some people you are interested in and some you are not. Mr. Bradlee just happens to fall into the latter group. So can I focus on a ninety-minute film about his life and career? I’m sure I can especially because of two factors. I like previous work from the filmmakers behind it and because in the modern day of “fake news” I’ve read that some say the likes of Ben Bradlee is sorely needed. I hope I am about to find out why they think so. First, the trailer and then I’ll get back to you after watching the film.
Gut Reaction: Yeah, I’d have to say the powers that be behind this documentary are what saved it for me. But, that is just me. I clearly understood the accomplishments of Ben Bradlee and his juxtaposition to key historical moments, but that alone wouldn’t awe me enough. But the direction of John Maggio (LOOKING FOR LINCOLN) and the producing team of Peter Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt and George Kunhardt of HBO’s Emmy-winningJIM, THE JAMES FOLEY. They are also behind the In Our Own Words documentaries on HBO. Their smart use of graphics and overall imagery held this together quite well.
The other effective aspect was the use of Ben Bradlee narrating a large portion of this film himself. He died in 1914 but not before he wrote a memoir and not before he did an audiobook adaptation. Obviously, the creative team was able to lift the vocals from that reading to cinch this film. This newspaper man truly seemed to be at the right place at the right time and took no guff to get what he needed. It was his no-BS attitude and an adamant quest for the Truth that makes his tenure at the Washington Post one to look up to. It is why many an article I’ve seen since the documentary aired talks about how he is sorely missed in this age of “fake news.” I can understand that and see how people in the journalistic circles look up to him. He just didn’t catch my appeal.
In Conclusion: I can see why a documentary was made about Ben Bradlee. This documentary, THE NEWSPAPERMAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN BRADLEE, was concise and clever in its delivery of the life of the journalistic giant. Put in the hands of a creative team less skillful would have certainly caused me to yawn and lose interest. Instead, it held my attention enough to school me on his life & career.
Next: As we still try to catch up on the documentary front we look at 32 PILLS: MY SISTER’S SUICIDE which debuted on 12.07.17.
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