The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

SOME­ONE at Fox­tel had the good sense to wait un­til af­ter the NRL grand fi­nal be­fore sched­ul­ing This Sport­ing Life (Mon­day, 10.30pm, Fox Clas­sics), a sear­ing por­trayal of a rugby league player’s moral and emo­tional down­fall. A film that de­picts rugby league as a bru­tal and de­grad­ing sport would hardly have found favour with footy fans and spon­sors last week­end.

This was the de­but film of Lind­say An­der­son ( If, O Lucky Man!), and quite by chance I watched it only a cou­ple of weeks ago on DVD and was dev­as­tated by its power and re­al­ism. We fol­low the ca­reer of Frank Machin (Richard Har­ris), a York­shire coalminer who be­comes a rugby hero with ruth­less dis­plays of on-field vi­o­lence. Har­ris’s riv­et­ing per­for­mance is rem­i­nis­cent of the young Mar­lon Brando and Rachel Roberts is su­perb as the em­bit­tered, love­less widow with whom Frank is ob­sessed. From its open­ing shot of a rugby scrum — shot from be­low — the film never re­laxes its grip. There has been no sports film to com­pare with it.

If the net­works are to be com­mended for show­ing This Sport­ing Life, they de­serve even higher praise for show­ing Net­work (Sun­day, noon, Fox Clas­sics), a blis­ter­ing at­tack on the moral vac­uum in US tele­vi­sion news­rooms. Peter Finch won an Os­car for play­ing Howard Beale, a vet­eran news­man with the (fic­tional) United Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem, who has a men­tal break­down on air af­ter be­ing told that he’s about to be sacked. When he threat­ens to com­mit sui­cide on cam­era, rat­ings soar in an­tic­i­pa­tion.

In some ways Howard is the equiv­a­lent of Frank Machin in This Sport­ing Life: a celebrity on the edge of in­san­ity, vul­ner­a­ble to chang­ing fash­ion and pop­u­lar adu­la­tion. Among many great scenes in Sid­ney Lumet’s film there’s the one when Howard apol­o­gises to his mil­lions of view­ers and urges them to rebel against the in­jus­tice of the sys­tem with the cry, ‘‘ I’m as mad as hell and I’m not go­ing to take it any more.’’ Wil­liam Holden de­liv­ers a fine sar­donic por­trayal of a net­work news boss.

Richard Gere, who plays the crooked in­vest­ment banker in Arbitrage (now in cine­mas), proved in Chicago (Sun­day, 8.30pm, Show­time Drama) that he can sing and dance as well. Bob Fosse’s leg­endary stage mu­si­cal is given bril­liant cin­e­matic treat­ment in Rob Mar­shall’s film, with Re­nee Zell­weger and Cather­ine Zeta-Jones as the homi­ci­dal gals who make it in show­biz in the roar­ing 20s. Great songs, funny char­ac­ters and lav­ish pro­duc­tion num­bers staged with won­drous flair and in­ven­tion.

Woody Allen’s new film To Rome with Love opens this month, and I can say noth­ing about it (ex­cept that I love it) but rec­om­mend in the mean­time one of Woody’s dark­est films, Crimes and Mis­de­meanours (Thurs­day, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), a de­vi­ous tale of murder and moral­ity with Alan Alda and Martin Lan­dau. The con­trast with his lat­est piece of froth could not be greater.

Re­nee Zell­weger in Chicago

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