Review: Journalistic zeal resonates in Rob Reiner’s ‘Shock and Awe’

The importance of journalistic integrity can’t be overstated these days, which is why for all its flaws “Shock and Awe,” like 2017’s far superior “The Post,” is worth seeing.

Still, if this swift, entertaining film, set during the post-9/11 run-up to the Iraq war, brashly leans left, it has history on its side as well as, it seems, the interests of our soldiers.

Despite an unfortunate reliance on exposition and on-screen identifiers, the script, by director Rob Reiner’s “LBJ” collaborator Joey Hartstone, engrossingly tracks how Knight Ridder newspaper reporters Jonathan Landay (“LBJ” star Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (James Marsden) became known as the only journalists “who got it right” about the absence of Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, an affecting if didactic framing device finds a young American soldier (Luke Tennie), who was paralyzed in the Iraq war, testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Reiner, who also has fun playing Knight Ridder’s forthright Washington bureau chief John Walcott, effectively weaves in pointed archival news footage plus other period reminders as underdogs Landay and Strobel, bucking the mounting national drumbeat, investigate the George W. Bush administration’s dubious reasoning for waging war on Iraq.


The adept cast includes Tommy Lee Jones, as veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway; and Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich and Kate Butler as the women in, respectively, Strobel’s, Landay’s and Walcott’s lives, all of whom are somewhat underused.

Although the film’s ending inherently lacks triumph or catharsis, closing clips of the real-life Knight Ridder principals help provide a resonant wrap-up.


‘Shock and Awe’

Rated: R, for language including some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: In limited release

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11:53 a.m.: This review was originally published April 26 and updated for the film’s July 13 re-release.