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Henry Hackett is the editor of a New York City tabloid. He is a workaholic who loves his job, but the long hours and low pay are leading to discontent. Also, publisher Bernie White faces financial straits, and has hatchetman Alicia Clark, Henry's nemesis, impose unpopular cutbacks. Henry's wife Martha, a hugely pregnant former reporter of his, is fed up because he has so little time for his family. He is therefore considering an offer from Paul Bladden to edit a paper like the New York Times, which would mean more money, shorter hours, more respectability...but might also be a bit boring for his tastes. But a hot story soon confronts Henry with tough decisions. Written by
The film tells the story of a single day in the life of "The Sun", not the British tabloid famous for its Page Three Girls, but a struggling New York newspaper. The main character is the editor Henry Hackett. He is a workaholic who enjoys his high-pressure, high-powered job, but has been offered another position with the "New York Sentinel", a prestigious broadsheet. Although he fears that he will find this largely administrative post less fulfilling, he is being pressured to accept it by his pregnant wife Martha because it will involve shorter hours and higher pay. Among the other characters are Bernie, the hard-bitten hard-drinking publisher, Alicia the bitchy, unsympathetic managing editor and McDougal, the paper's star reporter who has been running a campaign to discredit the city's parking supervisor.
The main drama centres on the murder of two white businessmen in a predominantly black area of the city. This is initially assumed to be a racially motivated killing, an assumption shared by most of the press, and two black youths are taken into custody by the police. Hackett, however, has a hunch that the two are innocent and that the killings are in fact linked to organised crime. When, late in the day, he finds a policeman who confirms his suspicions he is presented with a dilemma. Under pressure from Alicia he has agreed to lead the next day's edition with a picture of the two men being taken into custody and the headline "Gotcha!" (once famously used by the British "Sun" in a different context) which will imply the men's guilt. Although the edition has already gone to press, Henry wants to stop the presses and use the same photograph but with a different headline emphasising their innocence. Alicia, however, puts financial considerations before journalistic accuracy and is reluctant to stop the print run because of the extra costs involved.
The film could have been made in one of two ways, either as a satirical comedy about the press or as a serious drama about journalistic ethics. Unfortunately, it does not fall into either of these categories but rather falls somewhere between the two. The overall tone is too light for a serious drama, and some scenes verge on the farcical. I am thinking particularly of the one where Henry and Alicia have a stand-up fist fight while he tries to turn the printing press off and she tries to stop him. I have never been Michael Keaton's greatest admirer, with his rather frenetic style of acting (or overacting), but if the film had been made as a pure comedy he might have worked well as the frantically overactive Henry. He did not, however, seem convincing in his attempts to make Henry into a crusader for truth and integrity. The scriptwriter must also bear some of the blame for this; it is hard to regard as a paragon of virtue a journalist who steals a story from a rival editor's desk while being interviewed for a job. The best acting performance was probably from Glenn Close as Alicia, but even she was something of a comic villain- the Cruella de Vil of the newspaper industry- rather than a rounded character.
On the other hand, the film is insufficiently biting and cynical and too sentimental to work as satire. It has been said of this film that even when Ron Howard tries to make a semi-serious film he ends up reducing it to cotton candy. To be fair to Howard, he has made some reasonably good films since 1994 on serious themes, such as "Apollo 13" or "A Beautiful Mind", but with regard to "The Paper" this comment seems spot-on. It is neither a drama, nor a comedy, simply candy floss. 4/10.
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