These days, if you want to make another movie about the trials and tribulations of the press, you have to come up with something pretty special. When “Spotlight” came out, everybody compared it to “All the President’s Men.” When “The Post” opened last year, it was compared, not always favorably, to both of those films.
Now comes Rob Reiner’s “Shock and Awe,” about the crusading Knight Ridder journalists who, in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, dared question the George W. Bush administration’s weapons of mass destruction rationale for taking military action. One can admire the doggedness of these newspapermen – Warren Strobel (James Marsden); Jonathan Landay (a miscast Woody Harrelson, though still fun to watch); their editor, John Walcott (Reiner); and Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), the celebrated war correspondent who was brought in as an adviser – and still feel that “Shock and Awe” is fundamentally lacking in either quality.
It’s a rote piece of work that, oddly, also feels dated even at a time when the press and the White House have rarely been more at odds. Reiner and his screenwriter, Joey Hartstone (with whom he also collaborated on the moribund “LBJ,” starring Harrelson), present the indefatigable reporters as Knight Ridders in Shining Armor countering not only the White House but also an establishment press that, in the film’s view, certified the administration’s WMD hysteria. (The New York Times and its reporter Judith Miller are especially singled out for opprobrium.) “Shock and Awe” is proof yet again that righteousness does not in itself make for a good movie. Grade: C (Rated R for language, including some sexual references.)