Rather is a superb and brilliant documentary about the life and career of the iconic CBS News anchor and reporter Dan Rather.
Dan Rather left the CBS Evening News anchor desk in early 2005 after a 24-year stint. He was the second of the Big Three news broadcasters to step down–Tom Brokaw went first late 2004 and Peter Jennings would have his final broadcast days later in 2005. Being a child of the 1980s, they were the trusted names that came into our homes daily. The internet wasn’t as big in the 1990s. There were no smart phones to take our attention away. And yet, at 6:30 PM during the week, one could turn on CBS, NBC, or ABC to watch Rather, Brokaw, or Jennings, respectively. The news was a different time. You didn’t have YouTube or a gazillion other networks competing for one’s attention. That’s what makes this documentary so special. It’s a nostalgic reminder of what’s missing today.
Taking over for Walter Cronkite in 1981 meant having big shoes to fill. In a business where ratings are everything, it’s a surprise that he lasted as long as he did with losing ground to both Brokaw and Jennings. It would have been nice to see more minutes in the film devoted to their relationships. For instance, the trio were honored during the 57th Emmy Awards in 2005 but a clip or still of the moment does not make the final cut. It’s a challenge that comes with telling a 95-minute film on such an iconic man in the world of news. The evening news has not been the same since they left and with everything happening today, it’ll never be that way again.
Frank Marshall never intended to direct a documentary on the iconic newsman. At the time, he was only executive producing through the Kennedy/Marshall Company. However, one thing led to another and next thing you knew, he was directing the doc. Rather is different from much of Marshall’s other documentaries in that most of them focus on music subjects. At the same time, Marshall still brings the same care and attention to detail in this film. It runs around an hour and a half but again, some things don’t find their way into the film because of time–that just goes without saying. Marshall hits on the following:
- John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, where the iconic newsman was covering from Dallas, Texas
- The Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War where he was pushed by security guards
- Watergate, where President Richard Nixon jokingly asked, “Are you running for something?” His response: “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?”
- “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” and singing with R.E.M.
- Dead air in 1987 when a tennis match went long, delaying the CBS Evening News
- A confrontational interview with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush during the Iron-Contra Affair in 1988
- Berlin Wall
- The Texas Air National Guard memos that would ultimately lead to his ousting from CBS News
- His post-CBS tenure working for AXS TV
- Reinventing himself for a new generation through viral tweets on social media
Rather’s life isn’t just limited to working in news. He talks about his childhood and meeting his “smokin’ hot” wife Jean. The film contains interviews with his family, including daughter Robin and grandson Martin. Combine this with the other interviews and one gets an idea of what it was like to worth with him. Through archival clips on the late shows, we get a first-hand look at his Ratherisms. Of course, no documentary about anyone working in news would be complete without a montage of clips of those critical of him. One could make a longer film to include more things but at 95 minutes, it gets the job done.
Rather allows the iconic newsman to reflect on his life and career while also introducing him to a new generation.
DIRECTOR: Frank Marshall
SCREENWRITER: Dan Crane
FEATURING: Dan Rather, Robin Rather, Martin Rather, Ronan Farrow, Mark Cuban, Andy Cohen, Samantha Bee, Soledad O’Brien, Shepard Smith, Andrew Young, Margaret Sullivan, Douglas Brinkley, Rick Perlstein, Susan Zirinsky, Sir Howard Stringer, Jim Murphy, Tom Bettag, Dana Roberson, Wayne Nelson, Larry Doyle
Rather holds its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight+ section. Grade: 4.5/5
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