This review is of the edited TV-PG version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative.
It’s time to look at a film about trying to keep up high ratings when your channel lags behind the rest. It’s always tough to keep someone’s attention for long because eventually they are just ready to move on and try something different. For example I can go from marathoning a bunch of Shark Tank segments to not watching another one for months. Fads come and go and so channels also have to move fast, but if they go too fast then there isn’t enough time for people to enjoy anything.
The Network starts out with Max letting Howard know that he is about to be fired from the TV station. Howard’s had a long career but the channel has decided to cut him out. In rebellion Howard decides to go crazy on the air as he rambles on like a crazy person. It ends up going viral and people actually seem to like him. Diana is another employee of the company who aspires to run the whole place and takes this chance to take control of the show. Will banking on a crazy person ultimately work out for her or is this going to be one of her biggest mistakes.
The film has some interesting ideas but ultimately they are hampered by a sub-par execution. First off is the very unlikable cast that hurts the experience. Max is one of the main characters here and he makes just about every mistake you can imagine. He decides to get back at his boss by putting a crazy person on TV intentionally. Results aside, his motive was just revenge. Then he decides to have an affair even though he is married and keeps on spiraling out of control. There’s just no way to like this guy and having such a villain as a main character is unfortunate.
Then you have Howard who cracked early on. The guy was pretty insane near the beginning and kept having heart attacks but he was good at recovering from them. Even though he was crazy at least he was consistent at the beginning so I didn’t really mind Howard all that much. Where he ended up falling was when he met up with corporate and was easily tricked into furthering their ideology instead. If you’re going to take a bold stance and denounce modern society, you can’t be turned at the toss of a hat. That just makes him look sooooo bad. How can we possibly take this guy seriously after that?
Then you have Diana whose aspirations for being the boss are pretty strong, but she’s definitely too obsessed with doing whatever it takes including demeaning herself. The movie was showing all possible paths to power and so this was expected but it doesn’t make her character any more enjoyable. The random side characters were the best ones as they talked tough in the background and all probably had fairly interesting stories. In a TV channel studio you’re certainly going to have a bunch of people and whenever the board of executives showed up they usually had the best scenes. I wouldn’t have minded having more scenes with them instead.
So you’ve got the whole cheating plot bringing the film down from the start. It definitely gets more screen time than necessary. Then you’ve also got the film’s poor writing. There is way too much language in this film which is an easy crutch for a writer to try and add some tension. So the script could have used some work and it also didn’t help in making the film any better either. The pacing also could have used some work. We see a lot of scenes of Howard on his show. I suppose they want you to see exactly what kind of program it was, but those scenes really drag on.
The guy’s just yelling about nothing the whole time and somehow everyone is getting really pumped up in the audience. This is where I would have trimmed quite a few scenes to save time and maybe re-allocate it to one of the rival companies. I’d like to have seen their reactions at times like maybe some laughter or something as they watch all of this unfold.
Finally, while the ending is good for shock value it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, there’s a subplot about a terrorist group who is running around America robbing banks and such. The news reporters are able to find them and where they live pretty easily and make a partnership. I suppose we can buy into this and at the end the reporters ask for a hit. Here’s where things get dicey, the leader of the terrorist organization decides to jump in and fire the shot personally. Why? If he’s caught…-and he should definitely be caught since this is right in the middle of a live show with tons of security- then he is going to go to go to jail and that’s it for all of his ambitions and goals. I somehow don’t think the news channel will have his back when the cops show up because they’ve shown that they are anything but trustworthy.
The film could have really benefited from being more about office politics. That is always one of the most enjoyable parts of films like this because of how relatable it is. Every job has a ton of politics and the side you pick will probably determine how enjoyable your time there is. We get some of that here, but it’s all in the background compared to in the front. The beginning of the film was more promising with people picking lines and then it was effectively dropped in the second half.
Overall, The Network is a film with an interesting premise but the execution just wasn’t there. There were no real characters for me to root for. They all got annoying pretty quickly and I could see why all of the other stations were beating them in the ratings. Ultimately this channel tried every underhanded trick they could and it still didn’t work. In a way it shows that the other channels were doing things the right away. Since you’re rooting against the main station the whole time I suppose in a sense the film had a happy ending.