Cast: Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, William Holden
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Network is an outrageously brilliant look into the madness of the network television industry. Despite being a whopping 40 years old, this film remains timeless and is still very relevant today. The sophisticated direction, sharp and witty writing and superb acting give life to the movie. There is a never a dull moment. Network is always alive and flowing with energy, satirizing television corporations and ratings based journalism on the way.
The film starts off by showing four television screens showing newscasters simultaneously. This signifies the fact that television is everywhere and is a very significant part of our lives. Moreover, all the voices can be heard together. I feel that this represents the rivalry between network companies and the push for the coveted ‘ratings’. This opening scene shows us the doors to the insane world of television and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
The story starts with the narrator telling us that Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), a longtime anchor at the ‘UBS Evening News’, is about to be fired by the network executives in a couple of weeks due to the falling ratings of his show. Howard gets drunk after he gets to know about this and announces (in his next show) that he will commit suicide next week. This emotional outburst is seen by millions of people as it has been broadcasted on national television. Everyone, including the American public and people working in the media industry, are left shocked by this. Nevertheless, Howard is given an opportunity to make a public apology on his next show to clear things out. But it turns out that Mr.Beale is quite the daredevil. Instead of apologizing, he goes on another outburst on live television. Witnessing his outrage is truly comical.
This event prompts a firm response from UBS executives. Gradually, we are introduced to other characters that are working at the company including the strict and dominant Frank Hackett (played by Robert Duvall) and insanely ambitious Diana (played by Faye Dunaway). The acting in the film is top notch. This can be seen by the fact that it won three Acting Academy Awards. Unfortunately, Peter Finch passed away before the awards ceremony. He and Heath Ledger are the only two actors in history to win an Oscar posthumously.
Back to the story, the UBS executives gradually realize that Howard’s outburst has done them more good than harm. It has led to a surprising increase in their ratings. Hence, they decide to utilize him even more instead of firing him. Ratings continue to grow which eventually leads to the creation of a dedicated show for Mr.Beale. The people are in awe of his insane talks. This makes a point that whatever the circumstances, the main driving force behind the content produced by networks is always ratings. What we see on television is in fact what we want to see. Man has always had the need for someone to put a show on for him.
The best thing about Network is its sharp dialogue and memorable monologues. There are so many quotable lines throughout the film. What makes these lines even more special is the way they are delivered by the excellent cast. There is a fair amount of shouting throughout the movie which never feels forced. Instead, it strengthens the impact of its words. The set design of the movie is also commendable. All the various locations are designed with great attention to detail and have the power to transport you into the corporate world of network television.
Moreover, Network shows the intricacies of the politics involved in the television industry. It takes a look into how people compete with and manipulate each other to climb the ‘corporate ladder’. A quote from the film perfectly sums up these points: “The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr.Beale”.
The ending of the film is quite striking and that is fitting considering the way Network boldly presents its commentary on the corporate world. Hence, I feel that the movie achieves its purpose. It leaves us stunned with memorable lines and memorable scenes. Its ability to derive dark humor is incredible. Network is a film that will surely make an impact on how you view television, in general. What you see on television isn’t always congruent with the truth.
I am a very passionate cinephile. For me, movies are not just a source of leisure and entertainment. They’re a LOT more than that. I am fascinated by the art of cinema and how it can be used to portray the countless dimensions of the human condition.