Network (1976)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, William Prince, Beatrice Straight

Written by: Paddy Chayefsky

Running Time: 121 mins

Original UK Cert: AA

Original UK Release: 1st November 1976

Network is one of those films that has stood the test of time. A biting satire on television, the news and on how greed and obsession with ratings is all that every one is interested in, even those who have no right knowing a single thing about it. It’s also one of those films that deserves everyone to see it at some point in their lives, not only for the content but also for the electrifying performance from Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for his part of ranting Howard Beale.

UBS Network has been struggling for years, especially their news department, so their head anchor, Howard Beale, has been forced to resign. Instead of leaving quietly, he announces that he is going to kill himself live on TV. Causing a media frenzy, Howard asks to publically apologise. He is allowed, yet uses the time to rant about the state of the country, which suddenly makes him a huge hit. Seeing the potential, hungry for power programmes manager, Diana, wants to take Beale on and make him and the station, the biggest in the country.

The film skillfully shows us the behind-the-scenes antics of management decisions,  on how the network will go to any length to attract audiences. In the same way, the film also somehow predicts that we will become obsessed with reality TV, in a bizarre subplot involving the every day routines of a political activists group as well as stating that if the networks show car crashes, the audiences will watch in their millions. Strange how that has become reality in itself.

At the centre is Howard Beale, an odd character, once respected as a news anchor, who is allowed to have a breakdown live on air, just so that the station can attract more viewers. His improvised rants about banks, businesses, corporations taking over everything, leads him to be dubbed “the prophet”. Not every one agrees with the treatment of a man, who is obviously suffering from mental illness. His best friend and boss, Max. He can see the station are manipulating him, yet Max does little to stop it. Instead he is too involved in a relationship with the much younger Diana, who has basically stolen his job.

The film is brimming with star turns, which deservedly won it four Oscars, mostly all acting. Faye Dunaway has never been better as the greed driven Diana, while William Holden delivers another pitch perfect performance as Max. Robert Duvall’s corporate Frank Hackett is as vile and as ferocious as they come, and Beatrice Straight deservedly won a supporting Oscar for her role as Max’s downtrodden and replaced wife.

Yet the film still belongs to Finch. His is a powerhouse of a performance, a raging tornado of vicious accusations and biting anger. The “I’m as mad as hell” speech has gone down in cinema history and it’s sad to think that soon after, Finch had passed away and never got to enjoy his biggest and most successful role ever.

With Sidney Lumet behind the camera shooting Paddy Chayefsky’s wonderful script, Network has built up a reputation for being one of the best satires on film. Watching it today, you can wonder at how powerful it must have been, because it’s just as powerful today. A true classic in every sense of the word and a film that has to be seen.

5/5

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