MIKE WALLACE IS HERE
(director: Avi Belkin; editor: Billy McMillin; cast: Mike Wallace; Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Rafael Marmor, John Battsek, Peggy Drexler, Christopher Leggett, Avi Belkin; Drexler Films; 2019)
“The film allows Wallace and those he interviews to speak for themselves. There are no talking heads as distractions.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Israeli director Avi Belkin (“Winding”), in his first English language feature, does a beautiful job with this cautionary tale on the biopic of the noted American journalist Mike Wallace. The Belkin team research on Wallace is extensive, there’s never before seen footage and there’s unlimited access to thousands of hours of CBS News’ own archives.
The film allows Wallace and those he interviews to speak for themselves. There are no talking heads as distractions.
Mike Wallace died in 2012 at the age of 93. For more than 40 years he was a fearsome correspondent on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” who was considered the most feared and irritating interviewer on television. He was a legend in journalism who covered the big stories — from Vietnam to Watergate to the Iran hostage drama. He once got Barbra Streisand so agitated that she called him an SOB on camera.
In its opening scene, there’s a provocative interchange between Wallace and Fox’s controversial former host Bill O’Reilly. When Wallace questions O’Reilly for his hectoring style, O’Reilly retorts that Wallace was his inspiration, “the driving force of my career. If you don’t like me, you go to Wallace.” But O’Reilly was a fraud, he proved to be no Wallace in getting to the truth–Just another admirer.
The film seamlessly covers Wallace’s career and how his intense news broadcasting started in his 1956 interview program, “Night Beat,” where his no-holds-barred style of questioning caught the attention of the country.
Wallace changed in 1962 to cover only serious news after the accidental death of his 19-year-old son Peter while vacationing in Greece.
In 1968, with the help of his ally producer Don Hewitt, Wallace joined “60 Minutes” as one of the originals correspondents, and mainly because of him the program became increasingly popular.
The filmmaker also tells us about the low points in Wallace’s long career in journalism, like the $120-million libel suit that retired Army Gen. William Westmoreland brought, accusing Wallace of “executing me on the guillotine of public opinion.” (The suit was settled before it went to trial). It even mentions Wallace’s failed suicide attempt over his relentless depression issues.
I came away with the impression that the badgering Wallace was always after the truth in his news coverage or interviews. In this solid and valued documentary, we get to see in detail that side of the effective newsman–whose journalistic efforts to gather the truth will always be appreciated in a democracy. But whether or not you can appreciate the brashness of the man delivering it, is a different story.
REVIEWED ON 7/26/2019 GRADE: A-