Director Rob Reiner gets political once more with Shock and Awe revisiting the politically charged lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.
The film tells the story of four journalists with the Knight Ridder News Service. The media wasn’t challenging the Bush Administration on Iraq’s lack of evidence when it came to Weapons of Mass Destruction. Knight Ridder, for what it’s worth, rose to the occasion when nobody else was challenging the administration. It’s something that’s not lacking right now when it comes to the Trump administration. Though it can certainly be said there are though outlets who enable the lies. You know who they are.
“We write for people whose kids get sent to war,” Knight Ridder DC Bureau chief John Walcott (Rob Reiner) says while addressing the newsroom. It’s one of the most powerful moments in Shock and Awe. It’s a stark reminder that the Knight Ridder reporters weren’t afraid to stand up for the truth. Coincidentally, Walcott now heads up the Reuters investigation into Trump’s involvement in the Russian scandal.
This was a time when social media wasn’t what it is now. Presidential administrations had to control the narrative in a different way. It’s on the journalists to find those people in the administration who are willing to tell the truth. In 2003, Bush wasn’t distracting people on Twitter in the same way that Trump is doing at the moment.
Joey Hartstone’s screenplay does his best to live up to the legacy of Knight Ridder Senior Military Correspondent Joseph Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), Knight Ridder National Security Correspondent Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson), Knight Ridder Foreign Affairs Correspondent Warren Strobel (James Marsden), and Knight Ridder DC Bureau Chief John Walcott. Neither of them are with Knight Ridder anymore as McClatchy acquired the company in 2006. Knight Ridder is a testament in the strong American journalism tradition.
These were people who put their names on the line in the name of the First Amendment. It’s because of the First Amendment that one can understand why Reiner wanted to tell this story. Nobody could blame him in that regard especially with the media currently being attacked by Trump and company. The film plays as more of a conventional biopic than anything else. It’s the journalistic equivalent to Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone starring Matt Damon, only way less action involved.
The problem with Shock and Awe isn’t that Reiner has lost his magic behind the camera. He certainly hasn’t. It’s more that Reiner has changed focus over the years. He has every right to be political in the stories he tells. The question is: is it the right time for said stories? The reality is that Americans don’t want to revisit the lead-up to the Iraq War. Maybe it would be okay under a different presidential administration but with Trump at the helm, it’s not the best film to watch.
Journalists do their job right when they are working to serve the American public. Whether the public wants it or not, Shock and Awe is a reminder that journalists–even cable talking heads–should always work to seek the truth.
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
SCREENWRITER: Joey Hartstone
CAST: Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Milla Jovovich, Jessica Biel, Tommy Lee Jones, Rob Reiner, Luke Tennie, and Richard Schiff