REVIEW: The Oscar-winning director and co-writer of Spotlight has returned to the newsroom—and he’s brought a two-time Oscar-winning actor with him.
As the true story focused on The Boston Globe’s exposé of a massive scandal involving the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse, Tom McCarthy’s Alaska Daily (now streaming on Disney+) is a testament to the power of investigative journalism and the importance of a newspaper in keeping a local community informed and its leaders accountable.
When we first meet Eileen Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), she is in the final stages of preparing a five-month exposé of General Raymond Green for publication. The evidence she has uncovered suggests that he has used his power and influence to sell weapons to bad people who have used them to kill innocents.
But even though the story has already been cleared by legal officials, there is a certain amount of tension and trepidation in the air at The Vanguard’s New York offices, especially since all the allegations have come from a single source. Eileen is confident in her story and objects to anyone who dares to suggest she should wait.
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But despite making the expected splash, it’s not long before the general’s team goes after not only Eileen’s source, but the journalist’s own reputation. Nervous about the mounting pressure, her editor cancels Eileen’s planned current affairs show and essentially reverses the story. A Daily Beast article builds a narrative around her animosity toward her colleagues, especially other women, and—within days—Eileen’s career has effectively been canceled.
Four months later and Eileen he just left her apartment. Now that she’s trying to turn the story into a book, she’s surprised when a man she hasn’t seen in 17 years comes calling.
Alaska Daily was created by Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.
Former colleague Stanley Cornik (Jeff Perry) wants to offer her a chance to get back in the game. A one-year, general reporting contract in his paper. He knows she’s not the “two-bitch blinded by her own ambition” she’s been portrayed as, or even “a woman who’s spent her entire career fighting bully-boy misogynists only to be canceled for be yourself”, but only one of the best journalists he has ever met.
Despite his best flattery, persuading her to drop everything to move to Anchorage, Alaska isn’t exactly an easy sell. “I paid my dues. It’s the minor leagues, she says dismissively. “I’m going to finish my book—and I’m out.”
However, Stanley has an ace up his sleeve. An unsolved mystery surrounds the death of an indigenous woman which the community believes is part of a series of unexplained disappearances and deaths of young women from similar backgrounds. “We’re doing a good job, but we’re missing too much,” pleads Stanley, “You break big stories Eileen. You do it for us, we stay relevant, we stay alive.”
Although it’s eventually enough to get her on a plane, adjusting to her new surroundings won’t be easy. The Daily Alaskan has minimal resources, a strained relationship with both local police and the indigenous population, and its office is located in a shopping center that is also home to a Chinese restaurant, travel agency, massage parlor and an insurance company.
If that wasn’t testing enough, rivals The Anchorage Eagle are quick to stick the boot in, claiming The Alaskan is “abandoning all pretense of professionalism and fairness” by hiring Eileen as a staff writer.
A cross between Sharp Objects and Northern Exposure, Alaska Daily benefits greatly from McCarthy’s (whose resume also includes critically acclaimed films such as The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win) ability to create colorful characters and give them something meaningful to say . He also does an effective job of bringing to life the trials and tribulations of a smaller city paper (Anchorage’s population falls somewhere between Wellington’s and Christchurch’s), with some of the technology and challenges eerily familiar to those of us in the business here.
However, aided by McCarthy’s solid work in calling the shots and writing the script – and a wonderful ensemble of mostly younger supporting players – this is very much Swank’s chance to shine again. Something of a frustrating figure lately, given the somewhat varying quality of her project choices (as well as her award-winning turns in Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby, she’s also starred in dire disasters like The Reaping and The Core ) , here she reminds us what a compelling actress she can be.
Eileen is a complex, prickly and determined protagonist, one whose foibles, quirks and prejudices make her reason enough to be hooked on Alaska Daily – just to see what she’ll do (or who she’ll annoy) next.
Alaska Daily is now streaming on Disney+.