‘Cold Copy’ Review: A Satisfying Media Noir For The Fox News Age – Tribeca Film festival

In the proliferation of subgenres, the media noir is perhaps the rarest. From the ’50s alone, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps, and Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success spring to mind. Just lately, with the exception of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014), there hasn’t been too much evidence of a renaissance, but Roxine Hellberg’s satisfying feature debut taps back into the same dark wells of oral ambivalence corruption and power, casting the excellent Bel Powley as a journalism student who will do whatever it takes to make it in the cut-throat world of TV news broadcasting.

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It’s possible that the media noir was supplanted by the white-knight school of journalism movies, which has been going strong since All the President’s Men (1976) and struck Oscar gold as recently as 2015’s Spotlight But that was in the dinosaur print era, and Cold Copy takes place in the bright light of the brave new world of viral news, social media pile-ons and OnlyFans celebrities. Mia Scott (Powley) knows the golden age is over when she takes on a postgrad degree focusing on investigative technique. Her tutor tells her as much, saying, “Journalists with degrees make less than girls posting from their bedrooms about succulents and kombucha.”

Mia’s tutor is Diane Heger (Tracee Ellis Ross), the host of The Night Report (TNR) and a hard-nosed news reporter who gives her students a tough time — and Mia the toughest time of all. But Mia is under the spell of Heger’s public image: right at the top of the film we see Heger pontificating on the needs of the job. “Journalism is not a vocation, it’s a persona,” she says. “It has to be. You’re trying to wrangle deep, uncomfortable truths from people that, if revealed, can change the course of their lives.” This somewhat dogmatic description of journalism is music to the ultra-idealistic Mia’s ears, but not everyone is taken in. “She’s Dr. Phil, not Marie Colvin,” says her flatmate.

Mia’s class is set coursework that involves researching, writing and shooting a 20-minute news segment, with the promise that only the best will be considered for broadcast on The Night Report. Mia tries a number of blind alleys before encountering the perfect subject late at night. While dealing with an aggressive date, Mia is helped out a young stranger who turns out to be 16-year-old Igor Nowak (Jacob Tremblay), the son of a famous children’s author who recently died after taking an accidental overdose.

Igor is a precocious kid who lives by his own rules, in a spacious modernist home where his father is often absent. After spending some time with him, Mia decides that Igor’s budding career as an artist is the story — a human interest piece about the healing power of self-expression — but Heger shoots this down. “A lonely kid drawing in a big house is not a story.” Stung by Heger’s rebuke, Mia doubles down on her tendency towards ruthlessness and takes advantage of Igor’s friendship, manipulating the story into a ghoulish exposé of the real events surrounding his mother’s death.

Whether Mia will go all the way with this becomes the crux of the film’s final stretch, and it’s to Powley’s credit that it can go either way. Like those ’50s media noirs, there’s a certain ambiguity in the performance that suggests Mia might actually be pretty good as a heartless, self-serving sell-out. Add to this her backstory as the child of a mother who also died young and there’s another level to her obsession with journalism: the chance to tell stories that aren’t her own, that she can shape and finesse, and which put her in control. Playing opposite her, Room star Tremblay is pretty much perfect as the little boy lost who has learned to live with his demons and only feels pity for Mia when she turns.

Disappointingly, Mia doesn’t quite go all the way, but, like the censored Hollywood movies of the ’50s, the outline of a much bleaker and perhaps more satisfying story can still be seen. Maybe it’s down to Tracee Ellis Ross: her deliciously devilish portrayal of a wilfully amoral Tucker Carlson-style infotainment star is seductive, persuasive and nastily fun, and best reflects the way journalism in the 21st century would be unrecognizable and even rather shocking even to those jaded old newsroom guys of the ’50s.

Title: Cold Copy
Festival: Tribeca (Spotlight Narrative)
Director: Roxine Helberg
Screenwriter: Roxine Helberg
Cast: Bel Powley, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jacob Tremblay, Nesta Cooper
Running time: 1 hr 31 min
Sales agent:  UTA

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