Live from Baghdad (2002)
Director: Mick Jackson.
Starring: Michael Keaton (Robert Wiener), Helena Bonham Carter (Ingrid Formanek), Joshua Leonard (Mark Biello), Lili Taylor (Judy Parker), David Suchet (Naji Al-Hadithi), Bruce McGill (Peter Arnett), Michael Murphy (Tom Johnson), Paul Guilfoyle (Ed Turner), Hamish Linklater (Richard Roth), Michael Cudlitz (Tom Murphy), Robert Wisdom (Bernard Shaw), Pamela Sinha (Fatima), Clark Gregg (Eason Jordan), Matt Keeslar (Nic Robertson), Kurt Fuller (Inky).
CNN reporting team manages to relay accounts of the bombing of Baghdad in the Gulf War
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
America and its allies went to war with Iraq.
Flashback. Six months earlier. People are watching a Kevin Bacon film entitled Tremors when the Iraqis burst into Kuwait. People rush out of the theater.
Kuwait City. August 2, 1990. Iraqi tanks are coming into the city. President Bush says this will not stand.
CNN Headquarters, Atlanta. Reporter Robert Wiener is raring to go to Baghdad. He is introduced to the new President of CNN, Tom Johnson. Johnson knows that Robert has the guts to go to Baghdad, but he is yet to prove he will have the good sense enough to keep his crew alive? Johnson decides to take a chance on Robert. On his team Robert asks for Tom Murphy and Ingrid Formanek (who is in Rome now). He says he wants Ingrid because she keeps him honest. She hardly ever agrees with Robert.
Robert meets Ingrid at the Rome Airport. They hug each other. And now they fly to the Saddam International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq. August 23, 1990. With Robert and Ingrid are cameraman Mark Biello, correspondent Tom Murphy and soundwoman Judy Parker. The groups spends eight hours going through customs. A Mr. Mazin with the Ministry of Information shows up to escort them around. They are going to the Al-Rasheed Hotel.
At the hotel the clerk tells Robert that they have no reservations for him. A fellow named Inky from ABC News comes over to say hello to Robert. CBS and ABC News are being thrown out of the country. Robert sees a pretty girl and tells her that she is going to be their translator. She says her name is Fatima but she is Egyptian and a student. But she quickly changes her mind when Robert offers to pay her $100.00 dollars a day.
On TV they see a five-year old British kid named Stuart Lockwood who is petrified with fear at having to stand next to Saddam Hussein. Robert wants the boy's story high-lighted because the face of fear on the boy tells all. His family, like other foreign nationals, have been denied exit visas from Iraq.
Mr. Mazin takes the crew over to the US Embassy where there is a demonstration going on. The demonstration is too tame for CNN. They want an interview with Saddam Hussein.
Robert is right there at 8 a.m. to talk with Naji Al-Hadithi. He waits three hours or so when the 11:00 a.m. appointment arrives. The man gets frustrated waiting and leaves saying to the receptionist that this is rude and unacceptable behavior. A third appointment now shows up. The receptionist leaves, but he tells Robert to still wait. Robert is invited in to see Mr. Naji Al-Hadithi. He asks the man for an interview with Saddam Hussein.
Tom Murphy is going home. He said he signed up for one rotation and that is now ended. His wife is about to have a baby and he wants to be there with her. Robert is disappointed but has to let the man go. So now a fellow named Richard Roth comes to Baghdad to act as correspondent. President Bush recently addressed the Iraqi people and basically said that there's going to be an invasion. The reporters have to get out there and get some reactions from the man on the street. They do get a statement from an American worker in Baghdad named Bob Vinton.
The news networks are back. There's a big sign up welcoming back the ABC News team. Ingrid comes over to tell Robert that Bob Vinton has been taken prisoner by the Iraqis. At night Ingrid visits Robert in his room. Robert feels bad about what happened to Bob Vinton and blames himself.
CBS News anchor Dan Rather scoops Robert by getting the interview with Saddam Hussein. Robert complains to Naji Al-Hadithi, but the Iraqi says he never promised Robert the interview. So Robert now asks him about this fellow Bob Vinton. Naji tells Robert to look at him closely. He says he can tell Robert nothing, but his eyes seem to say the fellow is okay. Naji now does a favor for Robert. He lets him and his crew go interview in Kuwait.
Jahra Air Force Base, Kuwait. October 17, 1990. The Iraqis are hauling away art treasures. The CNN crew is picked up. On the road to Kuwait City the crew sees lots of dead bodies and burned out vehicles. The crew are taken to three different hospitals. The Iraqis got some bad publicity about pulling babies out of their incubators and throwing them on the ground to die. Now the Iraqis are trying to show CNN that they have incubators and they have babies in the incubators. Mr. Mazin suddenly calls off the interviews, probably because he overheard Ingrid and Robert talking about how scared the doctor is. He doesn't want a repeat of the Stuart Lockwood story. They are going back to Baghdad.
Over the BBC radio the CNN crew hears that a CNN crew just got back from Kuwait City and confirmed there is no truth to the incubator stories. The crew are really upset about this because they didn't even have time to file their story and it is already out. Ingrid once again says that the CNN crew is the news story. And as soon as they get back in Baghdad all the media descend on the CNN guys. The news reporters are saying that the CNN guys said there is no truth that babies were murdered. Robert denies that allegation.
Atlanta telephones and yells at Robert for the lousy hospital story. They were in Kuwait City, they must have seen a lot more interesting things than the hospital? Yes, they did but they didn't photograph it. So now the guys want Robert to take the footage regardless of whether the Iraqis censor it or not. They would rather have Saddam kick CNN out of the country rather than lose the credibility of CNN News. Tom Johnson asks Robert why were they the ones chosen to do the story of Kuwait City? Robert just hangs up.
Robert complains to Naji Al-Hadithi that he deliberately sat CNN up for a failure. Naji denies that. Rather he says that the press people use each other. It's always been that way. Robert reminds Naji that people are going to be killed soon, if they stop talking. So they got to keep Saddam talking or the killing will start. This makes an impact on Naji. Robert adds: "It's worth an interview."
October 29, 1990. CNN will be doing an interview with Saddam Hussein. Will you withdraw from Kuwait? The answer is no, naturally.
The CNN crew is happy, but Robert isn't satisfied. Thanksgiving Day, 1990. Saudi Desert. President Bush says they are dealing here with the classic bully who thinks he can kick sand in the face of the world. He says they are going to push the Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait. Richard Roth is now leaving. Saddam is letting all the hostages go. John Holliman is in Baghdad and they put him to work doing interviews. Robert sees Bob Vinton and talks with him. Robert is so relieved that Bob Vinton is all right.
Iraq is to leave Kuwait by January 15, 1991. Both sides are now talking to each other via CNN. Anti-aircraft positions are placed on top of Baghdad buildings. Robert and Ingrid get drunk in the hotel bar. He says they have gotten drunk together in ten different countries, but did they ever have sex? Ingrid says almost a couple of times, but no, they never did.
Robert gets his four-way, which will allow him direct contact with Atlanta. Naji tells Robert later that they deceived him. He knows that Robert can now directly communicate with Atlanta. Robert asks him if they are going to take the four-way from them? He says no, because they think CNN will use it responsibly.
Robert gets a call saying that they are setting up an interview with Saddam Hussein for CNN on January 15, 1991, the deadline. If Saddam is ever going to back down, that would be the time to do it. CNN sends Bernie Shaw back to Baghdad. They also send out correspondent Peter Arnett. He tells Robert that as a war correspondent for 30 years, he has never gotten as much as a mark on him.
January 13, 1991. The city looks pretty closed down.
January 15, 1991. The mood in Baghdad is a somber one.
January 16, 1991. Robert decides to stay in Baghdad. He adds: "Hey, it's my walk on the moon." Bernie Mac, Mark Biello and Judy Parker are going. Now Robert has a private conversation with Ingrid. He says he wants her to stay, but he's asking her to leave with the others. Ingrid decides to leave. While Ingrid packs, the bombs start dropping. Everyone goes to the room where the camera is. The sky is lit up with anti-aircraft fire and bombs going off. Everyone goes down to the bomb shelter in the basement except Bernie Mac, John Holliman and Peter Arnett.
Iraqi soldiers try to flush the team out of their room, but Arnett acts so crazy that they abandon the idea and leave the reporters alone. CNN is the only new network reporting live from Baghdad and the other networks congratulate them. It's 5 a.m. in Baghdad. Peter Arnett says the damage is sizable. Many of the building are like boxes crushed by someone's giant hands. No one is on the streets. They now sign off. Ed gets on the line and tells the crew " . . . it was simply incredible and you can rest assured that you are the envy of every journalist around the world. Congratulations!"
Now the crew hugs each other. Naji comes to shut the broadcasting down. Robert tells Atlanta that now they can't report without being censored. Now he cuts off the transmission.
The next morning the crew is leaving. Ingrid leaves and tells Robert not to stay too long.
Naji and Robert walk around Baghdad. They call each other friend and say goodbye. Naji adds that he will see Robert when this war is over.
January 23, 1991. Robert Wiener returns home. Naji Sabri Al-Hadithi is now the Foreign Minister of Iraq. Saddam Hussein remains President of Iraq.
This film is more about the news production process than the war with Iraq. At this high level of the networks, there is a great deal of competition and rivalry between the various news networks for the best stories. And getting an interview with Saddam Hussein is the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, so they are all shooting for that honor. CNN did so well because it was the only network broadcasting live from Baghdad when the shooting actually started. They scooped all the other networks and this was definitely a coup in the news business.
Michael Keaton (as Robert Wiener) and Helena Bonham Carter (as Ingrid Formanek) were both very good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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