A documentary by Avi Belkin. Rated PG
As the late newsman points out early in Mike Wallace Is Here, "No strongman takes charge without first getting rid of the free press."
On one level, the film interrogates the very nature of journalism-its limits, duties, and compromises. It then goes further, to examine the human need to deeply question one's circumstances.
For his first English-language effort, Israeli director Avi Belkin was sifting through material for a proposed look at the (d)evolution of postwar journalism when he kept encountering interviews in which Mike Wallace went toe-to-toe with world-shakers, artists, and other witnesses to history. Eventually, he realized that the pugnacious reporter (who died in 2012, at age 93) embodied the best, worst, and most influential traits of modern newsgathering.
Born Myron Wallace to a family originally called Wallik, the future broadcaster first picked up the mike in 1939, and did everything possible on radio and early television, including ads, announcing, scripted drama, and comic routines. (He even worked as a straight man to Spike Jones and Groucho Marx.)
Wallace struggled to break in to the WASPy world of respectable reportage, as repped by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and instead pioneered a confrontational, one-on-one style on ABC's Night Beat and, most famously, on CBS's 60 Minutes, launched in the volatile year of 1968.
Along the way, he had verbal sword fights with subjects as varied as Barbra Streisand, Malcolm X, Salvador Dalí, Anwar Sadat, Bette Davis, and Vladimir Putin—the last visibly gloating when asked to send a message to the American people.
Deeply insecure in his private life, Wallace was also interviewed often, enabling the director to tell a complex story with no new footage or narration.
What emerges, in a spectacularly edited 90 minutes, is a troubled soul who never lost faith in the power of human communication, while sometimes getting caught up in the drama that can cheapen the job.
We don't learn how he felt about son Chris Wallace going to work for bête noire Fox News, but we do see him visibly horrified to hear loudmouth Bill O'Reilly describe him as his personal inspiration!