THE PAPER. Directed by Ron Howard; written by David and Stephen Koepp; produced by Brian Grazer and Frederick Zollo for Universal. Starring Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Duvall. Rated R (language)
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Watching The Paper may wear you out, but you'll have a lot of fun in the process. Covering a somewhat untypical 24 hours in the lives of several people connected with the fictional New York Sun, it manages to comment on journalistic ethics, tension between job and family, financial pressures in the newspaper business, the "mommy track," and more, without losing any entertainment value. It's a treat.
Keaton is Henry, metro editor of the Sun, who is toying with the idea of moving uptown to the Sentinel (a barely disguised New York Times clone). His hours would be better at the more respectable paper, which is important because his wife (Tomei) is about to have their first child and is starting to freak out at the prospect. But he really enjoys working at the Sun, where everything is more casual.
On the Metro beat this day, two black youths are accused of murdering some white businessmen, and this has to be the front page story. But Henry has heard that there are doubts about the boys' guilt, and is hesitant to run an inflammatory headline, should they turn out to be innocent.
This is the basic story, but a lot more happens as well, too much to summarize here. Given the movie's outstanding cast, though, and its topnotch script, we're rarely confused by the chaotic goings-on, and are constantly entertained.
My only criticism is that, towards the end, some melodramatic contrivances clash with the mostly realistic tone of the rest of the movie. But that's a minor beef, since by then we've been totally charmed by the characters and are willing to take just about anything they might give us.
Henry is a perfect role for Keaton, full of restless—occasionally manic—energy, and guided by a deep compulsion to do the right thing. It's his best performance in quite a while.
The rest of the cast is also good, with Robert Duvall as the editor whose hard-living style is finally beginning to catch up with him and Tomei, who is always fun to watch. Even characters with very little screen time are beautifully played; I particularly liked Amelia Campbell's short scenes as a rookie news photographer, and Spalding Gray's turn as the Sentinel editor who interviews, and later confronts, Henry.
May 4, 1994