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Alex Takats, left; and Carl Juste

MOVIE REVIEW
Endangered (2022)

“Endangered” follows four journalists of the liberal press going about their trade in four geographically separate but equally unsettled parts of the world, running into all the dangers that the trade has always encountered plus the ones brewed up in our current tense period. Dire as these are, sometimes they don’t seem so novel. Governments have always threatened reporters and the cops have always fired tear gas at them and people who mark their ballots in a different place have always been angry. When the film arrives at its natural destination with the Jan. 6, 2021, Washington riot and the abuse of journalists there, it seems one item on a continuum rather than a rogue data point. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s HBO film puts its journalists on another continuum, the honorable one leading back to The Washington Post and Watergate, and further back to clips from a 1960s U.S. TV program about the strength of a free press and the roaring print lines churning it out. Whether this is a road map to rescue or a last lament is less clear.

The four journos each take some licks during the course of the film. In Brazil, Patricia Campos writes about President Jair Bolsonaro, who has suggested she might be a whore after she uncovered fraud in his operation. Mexican photojournalist Sashenka Gutierrez covers the protest marches of women outraged at the country’s hideous rate of female murder victims, with the riot police regularly wading in. Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste documents police aggression at Black Lives Matter protests and then finds himself targeted for some more of the police’s attention. And British writer Oliver Laughland reporting for The Guardian interviews attendees at Donald Trump rallies, only some of whom are properly aggressive but none of whom believe a single word written in The Guardian. The journalists are four kindred spirits, but their perspectives are not identical. Ms. Campos and Mr. Laughland are facing uphill towards holders of high political office and the populist support they rode in on; Mr. Juste and Ms. Gutierrez are looking across at ground level events, mass public protests and the forces lined up against them. Jan. 6 blurs the boundary lines between the categories while turning them upside down.

Focusing on four political journalists in the current cultural brawl is understandable since politics is where the film’s particular fires are burning. These fires need fighting and each inch of progress is worthwhile; Ms. Campos sues President Bolsonaro for moral damages and wins, which probably surprises her even more than him. But there’s no avoiding that “Endangered” might be saying things that everyone who wants to know already knows, and if the Trump-Bolsonaro double act is running through its classic routines then the objections to them are well practiced too. The film visits a derelict printing press, a visual now in its second decade of shorthand for the retreat of one form of paid journalism and cultural decline in general; as yet no film crew has made the spirit of Ben Bradlee turn the presses back on again. The generations of activists wielding mobile devices as weapons might point out that other options are available, and a film letting them say so would need to also say how the same screens cause their own trouble while Meta platforms and the rest take their cut. “Endangered” has only 90 minutes covering journalists at flashpoints and so doesn’t go far into any of this, or into separating cause from effect. It’s a complex issue - Adam Curtis documentaries run for hours and still don’t reach the bottom of things - but in the end it would be a service to the journalists themselves to say something about it.

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