NPR logo
Movie-Reality Check: How Real Is 'Real,' Anyway?
  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Movie-Reality Check: How Real Is 'Real,' Anyway?



A number of movies in the multiplex right now are based on fact. Just a couple of examples come to mind: "Changeling," Clint Eastwood's dramatization of a child abduction case and "The Express," the life story of football's Ernie Davis. Our film critic Kenneth Turan says, when you see "based on a true story" flash on the screen, keep on mind those initial words "based on."

KENNETH TURAN: Reality can certainly be entertaining. Just listen to actor James Brolin, the star of "W."doing an impersonation of President W. Bush that has to be heard to be believed. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Josh Brolin, not James Brolin, is the actor cited.]

(Soundbite of movie "W.")

Mr. JOSH BROLIN: (As President George W. Bush) Well, it looks like we're hitting it off like grease hits a skillet, huh?

Unidentified Woman: Well, I don't think politics should define a human being. There's more to people than just how they vote.

Mr. BROLIN: (As President George W. Bush) Yeah, I like that. I like that. You're open-minded. Yeah, much more so than me, I have to say.

TURAN: Yes, that's amusing. But I know from personal experience how upset people get when films tinker even slightly with the facts. I heard a journalist who covered the war in Yugoslavia eviscerate Michael Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo" because the film used the wrong hotel as press headquarters. I recently got a letter from a veteran of the U.S. Army's last all-black combat unit telling me what was inaccurate about "Miracle at St. Anna," and I got an e-mail from an alleged Hezbollah sympathizer deriding the inaccuracies in "Body of Lies." I have my own theory about how reality and film interact, and it dates from my years as a reporter at the Washington Post at the time "All The President's Men" hit the big screen. I vividly remember sitting in the audience and watching as Carl Bernstein, played by Dustin Hoffman, interviewed former Attorney General John Mitchell on the phone.

(Soundbite of movie "All The President's Men")

Mr. DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Carl Bernstein) Sir, the committee to reelect has issued a statement to our story, but there are just a couple questions...

Mr. JOHN RANDOLPH (As John Mitchell): Did the committee tell you to go ahead and publish the story? You fellas got a great ball game going. As soon as you're done, we're going to do a story on all of you.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Carl Bernstein) Sir, there's just a couple of questions...

Mr. RANDOLPH (As John Mitchell): Call my law office in the morning.

TURAN: Wow, I thought to myself. How exciting, how romantic to have someone hang up on you. Then I remembered that in the real world of the Washington Post, having someone hang up on you that way is depressing and demeaning, not exciting at all. Even when movies are trying to be realistic, by their very nature they glamorize everything they touch. So if you're looking for anything like accuracy in movies, you're barking up the wrong tree. It's simply not possible. All you can ask of what's on the screen is that it be persuasive and dramatically consistent as a piece of storytelling. If you get that much, you're getting a heck of a lot.

INSKEEP: Here's an accurate description of Kenneth Turan. He reviews movies for Morning Edition and the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.