The Paper Review


It’s almost stunning how quickly Ron Howard’s The Paper collapses in on itself. Here’s a film that’s mostly fine, if a little familiar, for 80% of its running time. But my God, when it fails, it fails spectacularly. Almost any good will Howard and his all-star cast build is gone by the 75-minute mark in a spree of bizarre violence that’s cringe-worthy not because it’s intense, but because it’s so utterly inappropriate.

Before this unbelievably inept storytelling turn, The Paper is a workplace dramedy that chronicles 24 hours in the life of New York Sun metro editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton). His paper isn’t exactly a pillar of journalistic integrity, but Hackett is a gritty editor with a nose for finding the truth. After two black teenagers are arrested and charged with murdering two white businessmen in Brooklyn, Henry is suspicious. Those suspicions are confirmed after Henry, the clever snake that he is, steals a lead off the desk of a competitor during a job interview.

His 9-months-pregant wife, Marty (Marisa Tomei), an ace reporter in her own right, wants Henry to take the job at the Sentinel. Henry’s open to the idea, but he isn’t exactly sold. With the exception of the Sun’s managing editor, Alicia Clark (Glenn Close), Henry has great relationships with his ragtag staff. As the story of the murdered businessmen unfolds, however, Henry will learn a few hard lessons about himself that make his true obligations a little more obvious.

As a look inside a newsroom, the film is delightfully romantic. There’s a character named Mac (of course there’s a character named Mac). Howard’s camera never stops moving. The dialogue is fast and smart (if a little cute). And Henry’s preoccupation with his job, with finding the perfect story, feels authentic.

The power struggle between Henry and Alicia is the ultimate source of all the film’s problems. She’s a workplace climber who prides herself on saving the paper from financial ruin. When Henry wants to stop the presses to prevent the paper from running an incorrect story on its front page, the two rivals fight each other. It’s crazy. For a film that, for most of its running time, wants to romanticize journalism’s old guard, it seems strangely content letting any semblance of realism fly out the window faster than anything.

And that’s not the end of The Paper‘s descent into the movie abyss. There’s a struggle over a gun in a bar, two bloody trips to the hospital, and an enormous change of heart that renders the rest of the awful conclusion totally moot. Screenwriter David Koepp has penned some solid screenplays, but this is not one of them.

It’s a shame, really, because The Paper isn’t a worthless movie. Keaton gives a rather good performance, and Randy Quaid is pretty hilarious (if a tad verbose, to the surprise of no one). Howard’s direction works more often than it doesn’t, but like the film as a whole, when it doesn’t work, IT DOESN’T WORK.

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