Mike Wallace Is Here review – gripping portrait of an iconic journalist

Avi Belkin's involving look at the groundbreaking 60 Minutes newsman is essentially a "Greatest Hits" package - but what hits!

Mike Wallace made his name as the interviewer of CBS's groundbreaking news programme “60 Minutes” and became renowned for his “singular brand of brow-beating charm.” Outside of the US, he might be best known for his role in Michael Mann's “Big Tobacco” takedown picture The Insider – though in that film he was played memorably by veteran actor Christopher Plummer. Yet this gripping documentary proves that there's nothing quite like the real thing.

Directed by Avi Belkin and composed entirely of archive footage, Mike Wallace Is Here drives the notion that Wallace's direct and non-nonsense on camera approach prompted a cultural shift that saw the standard TV interview transformed from mere fluff piece into something of genuine substance. In a fascinating opener, disgraced Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly accuses Wallace of having popularised the aggressive journalistic methods he has come to criticise O'Reilly for. If O'Reilly is a monster, is Wallace the one who created him?

But Belkin's film, backed by an inspired and paranoid synth-driven score, is firmly on Wallace's side, painting him as a revolutionary, outlining his career trajectory, and giving us juicy snippets of the moments that made his career. One of the more interesting threads suggests that Wallace's beginnings as an entertainer, paired with his lack of journalistic background, always made him feel like an imposter in the newsroom. But it was this sense of inferiority – and the fact he was scarred with ache as a kid – that pushed him to go further and define himself.

In a sense we are merely watching interesting clips of Wallace's greatest interviews, including those with Malcolm X and the Ayatollah, the way one might on a YouTube binge – and there is a feeling that Wallace was perhaps a more complex and difficult character, in work and in his personal life, than this film shows. At points Belkin flirts with the idea that Wallace was merely enacting a persona. There are no straight answers, and in moments where Wallace is interviewed, his thoughtful and pained expressions seem to create more of an enigma. But in spite of what's missing this film is a worthwhile and fascinating historical portrait in its own right.

Mike Wallace Is Here is now available to rent or buy across VOD platforms.

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