Film Review: RATHER (directed by Frank Marshall; Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on June 13, 2023

in Film


Dan Rather sits in the back of a town car, looking pensive. Now in his early 90s, the icon of American journalism is being driven, somewhere, on a rainy day in Manhattan. We never find out where he’s going. For director Frank Marshall, his fascinating new documentary, simply titled Rather, is more focused on where its subject has been and how that led to where he is today (including three million twitter followers for his wise yet snarky posts). With excellent editing by Curtis McConnell and Joe Fenstermaker and sometimes stunning archival footage (including what appears to be a KKK women’s drill team), Rather is a reverent, if fairly straight-forward, depiction of a man who seemingly never compromised his single-minded goal of telling as much truth as possible.

From overcoming a severe childhood illness to working his way from local Texas weatherman to replacing Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, Marshall uses interviews with former colleagues, family members, friends and Rather himself as a way of laying bare this complicated personality and his polarizing career. Coming of age in the news business before it was also entertainment, the documentary shows a professional who stuck to those solemn foundational principles even when it put him in opposition with powerful elites or in personal danger. Some warts are revealed, yet the film also provides rationalization for why those warts are there. Perhaps unintentionally, the documentary, which just had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, also provides a rearview reminder of privilege in regards to who wielded power in the past and who was deemed trustworthy enough to report on that power. A quick shot of an 80s-era TV Guide cover featuring ABC/NBC/CBS evening news anchors Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Rather pretty much says it all.

Ultimately, RATHER is an engaging study of a journalism powerhouse whose actions were guided by principles not opinion polls. In 2023, it might be useful to be reminded of what that looks like.

photos courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival, 2023


Frank Marshall, Dan Rather and Jenifer Westphal on the Red Carpet (Cindy Ord)

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