Plot: A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor's ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch
"You need me. You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you. And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day."
"Network" is one of the most famous American films, which also won unusual thing in Academy Awards history - 3 Oscars for actors, including first posthumous statuette for late Peter Finch. The film follows the lives and the job of people involved in TV - one day Howard Beale, the anchorman, goes crazy on air and announces that because he lost his job he will commit suicide on air one week later. Instead of firing him, upon seeing how his actions made for great ratings Diana Christensen, ambitious vice-president in charge of programming convinces her boss Frank and Howard's friend family man Max to just let the show go on with unstable Beale.
With all the hoopla around "The Hunger Games" and all the talk about how it shows important issues and the dangers of reality TV all people need to do is just to watch this movie. 36 years ago "Network" showed the same truth with better story, superior execution and much stronger punch. The TV Network is prepared to show whatever it takes in order to gain ratings and in the process success and money. No matter what, no matter how much it destroys Beale and with no regard for the fact that while chasing their careers without any ethics and any consideration they will be left a shell of a person in the process.
It is a rare occasion when one of the actors raises to being the driving force of the movie. You know a character that appears and just infuses the screen with energy. Network has...four such characters. We have Diana, wonderfully played by Faye Dunaway who rightfully won Oscar for her mesmerizing and subtly heartbreaking work. She is a young woman, who puts her career on the pedestal. Even when she begins her relationship with Max she just treats it like her job, like she was following the words of the script, doing the things she thinks she should, never the things her heart tells her to do. She was left a shell of a person, so long not using her heart and soul, that she completely forgotten how to access them.
Max is a man who cares deeply about his friend Howard, but doesn't know how to help him. He is married yet he begins his affair with Diana. Even with all of that Max remains the only sane person here, the centre of the story, the moral compass and the bleeding heart. Somehow, although working in the Network so many years, Max is not affected by it. But maybe the decay already started? He didn't stop Diana and Frank from exploiting Howard and he didn't do much to help his friend. In fact he was the first one to use him - he was angry and he wanted to ridicule the Network so he just let Howard go on and on on air, talking about how much he despises the bullshit that is life.
Although it all revolves around Howard's show he is in the background, he is just a device used by all the other characters. The movie is mostly about Max and Diana and how much their job means to them. Diana is so preoccupied with her job that she can't find room for anything else in her mind. Even when she is with a man she is doing so, almost because it is what's expected of her. Almost as if she was in a series, the audience would expect her to have an affair creating the hope and promise of love. But the promise is never fulfilled, because her life is just that - life. Not TV.
Then there is Max's wife, Louise whom he leaves for Diana. First she yells at him, but then they talk, like friends, like old companions. Because they both now Max will go back. His whole relationship with Diana is perverse - she is TV generation and it's almost as if Max wasn't in love with her, but with what she represents - television. Cheap thrills, carefully planned scripts with the events set to excite the audience. Because he lost his job in TV, he needed something new to give him excitement. And that was Diana's part.
There is also Frank, played by Robert Duvall, who is going along with the idea of Howard being on TV speaking whatever he wants, because he notices how much money and popularity it will direct towards the Network. He doesn't even wonder about the possible consequences for Beale or for the ethics of the programs on TV.
The only music heard in the film comes from commercials and television show themes. It's all driven by incredible dialogue, one of the most meticulously delivered and carefully written I've ever witness in a film. But the visuals never put the characters in the shadows, their passion and their ambition is what is the most important here. The story is what counts and it is always what the characters chose to do that pushes it forward. And because the audience is fickle and the characters are so hard to figure out, we never know what is coming ahead.
Even when Beale tells people to turn off their TV sets, they keep watching. But then eventually Network's brilliant plan backfires when Beale turns the public attention toward what they hold dearest - money. And what transpires later is the very thing "The Hunger Games" tries to warn us about, but "Network" already did in its powerful ending purposely clumsily shot, in a gritty way, without much realism, with a lot of slow motion and other television gimmickry. Because that's not life. That's TV.