Shock and Awe straddles a frustrating line of feeling both incredibly relevant and surprisingly dated given its subject matter. In a time of deep, strong political divide, director Rob Reiner aims to lend his voice and rally on the side of hardworking journalists but the movie feels distracted almost every step of the way, falling flat in its delivery.
Reiner is a strong opponent of the current administration (as evidenced by his Twitter feed) and factors his opinion into the story of journalists working on a story leading up to the Iraq War. The movie begins in the midst of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which brought our country to its knees. The journalists at the Knight Ridder newspaper, including Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (James Marsden) begin to investigate the motives of the Bush administration and the decision to go to war with Iraq.
“…to investigate the motives of the Bush administration and the decision to go to war with Iraq.”
Shock and Awe intends to show the pavement-stomping dedication of Warren and Jonathan under their editor John Walcott (Reiner) as they try to break their story before anyone else does. Speculation of motives and the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction fuel their passion for getting the story right. In the age of “fake news” and hateful rhetoric towards journalists, Reiner’s intentions are undoubtedly honorable and well-meaning but the movie can’t ever seem to find its footing. It breaks the story’s rhythm to add a subplot about Warren going to speed dating and meeting Jessica Biel’s character. This might have happened in Warren’s life but it feels superfluous when chronicling the achievements of the Knight Ridder journalists.
“…a military correspondent for the paper. He just gets to do his Tommy Lee Jones thing.”
Harrelson and Marsden are serviceable and engage us with the passion of their rea- life characters. Reiner seems to have cast himself as the head of the bureau to spout journalistic platitudes about readers and content. There are moments when the dialogue becomes so hackneyed, you could almost feel an “If it bleeds, it leads” on the cusp of coming out of his mouth. Tommy Lee Jones also has a small role as Joe Galloway, the author of “We Were Soldiers,” which was adapted into the Mel Gibson film. He becomes a military correspondent for the paper. He just gets to do his Tommy Lee Jones thing.
The story at hand is certainly important but Shock and Awe fails to replicate the urgency of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which it clearly thinks it’s doing. Reiner is certainly commended for his efforts in telling this story but every step of Shock and Awe falls too flat to recommend.
Shock and Awe (2018) Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Joey Hartstone. Starring Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Rob Reiner and Tommy Lee Jones.
4 out of 10