With news organizations under fire from all sides these days along comes a movie about journalists who spoke truth to power. “Shock and Awe,” the new film from director Rob Reiner, details the efforts of the Knight Ridder journalists who questioned the reasoning behind the 2003 Iraq War.
The main thrust of the narrative begins on September 11, 2001. As the press struggle to find the real story behind the terrorist attack, George W. Bush’s White House begins a campaign of misinformation, shifting the blame from Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden to secular leader Saddam Hussein. Knight Ridder reporters Warren Strobel (James Marsden) and Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) sense something is not quite right with the story, even though many of their colleagues eat up the Bush administration story of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Their insiders suggest the White House is deliberately trying to start a war with Iraq, forging a connection between Hussein and Al-Qaeda.
When Knight Ridder papers like The Philadelphia Inquirer decline to publish their reporting editor John Walcott (Reiner) reaches out to a big gun, Bronze Star-winning war correspondent Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), for help. “We don’t write for people who send other people’s kids off to war,” says Walcott. “We write for people whose kids get sent to war. You only have one thing to ask: Is it true?” With Galloway’s support Landay and Strobel burn shoe leather to support their “Donald Rumsfeld is lying” angle.
There is not much either shocking or awesome in “Shock and Awe.” The story should be edge of your seat stuff but feels muted. Part of the trouble is the amount of exposition particularly a speech from Strobel’s love interest Lisa (Jessica Biel) that sums up 4000 years of Iraq history in just under two minutes. It doesn’t make for good drama, despite the explosive nature of the true events.
Perhaps the movie’s indignation about politicians and media not valuing the truth feels blunted in this time of Fake News. Or perhaps it is lost in the film’s breezy nature. Either way, the result is a movie that has its heart in the right place but isn’t angry or intrepid enough.