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Network

5

A brilliantly played, stone-cold '70s classic, whose message - - the blur between entertainment and degradation - - has more than a tang of topicality in these days of reality TV-dominated scheduling.

Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is a venal TV exec ready to try anything for a ratings boost. When her unpopular news anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), is fired, he promises to use his final slot to commit suicide - - live on air. The anticipation hikes up the ratings, outrage turns to intrigue and Christensen restyles Beale as the "mad prophet of the airwaves", a ranting, tabloid shock-jock type who rails against corporate America and encourages the nation to get off its couch and proclaim: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

The satire is dark and bludgeoning, everyone is terrific (particularly Finch) and Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning script delivers convincing behind-the-scenes realism along with its dark laughs. At the time, Beale was seen as a comical, far-fetched character. Now, in the midst of Big Brother, 10-a-penny evangelists and countless Jerry Springer-alikes, he's one of cinema's sharpest prophecies.

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