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DVD Review: Shock and Awe – “An important story to tell in these trying times”

Shock and Awe is the latest film from Rob Reiner: he made it back to back with his (still unreleased in the UK) LBJ biopic, which also stars Woody Harrelson. Both films are very televisual in style, but the calibre of the actors levitates the proceedings to someplace well over your average TV film. Shock and Awe is about the media build-up to the Iraq War in 2003, and how Knight-Ridder’s journalists were pretty much the only print or TV media organization to openly question the reasons behind the war.

The cast is full of great actors, including Woody Harrelson as Jonathan Landay and Tommy Lee Jones as Joe Galloway, even if they might be slightly phoning it in at times. All the actors have one or two showy moments of their own, and Reiner stepped into the role of John Walcott at last minute, snagging the big and expected speech about the need for freedom of the press. James Marsden, who has had a big comeback since starring in Westworld, continues his strong run with a solid performance as Warren Strobel.

Given the current political climate with Trump and fake news, it’s hard not to see the parallels to today. The film was shot near the tail end of the 2016 election, and Reiner is a noted critic of Trump. It’s also important to remember that only 15 years ago we had the media basically publish press releases from the Bush Administration and call them “journalism.” Only weeks ago Fox Business host Lee Dobbs called George W. Bush a “radical liberal” on the air, which just shows how topsy-turvy the world is now.

The film’s biggest flaw comes from a well-meaning place, but doesn’t work, and that’s a sub-plot about a Black family whose son signs up to fight in the war, and of course dies. It doesn’t add much to the story, it’s heavy-handed, and the story you care about is Knight-Ridder’s journalists telling truth to power. The film in general makes The Post seems like the most subtle film ever made, but it’s a good drama with strong performances, and an important story to tell in these trying times

The DVD includes a short making-of featurette, which is not too bad—and you get to see the actors and their real-life counterparts side by side.

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