Nobody Speak

Year: 2017
Production Co: Luminant media
Studio: Netflix
Director: Brian Knappenberger
Writer: Brian Knappenberger

I didn't realise before watching this movie the extent to which it was a manifesto about the whole concept of rich people interfering with the freedoms of press to further their interests. I thought it was just about the salacious (and very American) tale of a former pro wrestler suing a website for posting a sex tape video of him.

It starts with the bizarre court case being held in a Florida judicial district where Terry Bollea (better known to the world as 80s era pro wrestler Hulk Hogan) banged his best friend's wife, recorded it and released it to the world – whether you believe his assertion that he had no idea he was on film isn't the point here.

When the website Gawker (whose stated aim was to poke the powerful in the eyes with sticks) posted the video, Bollea sued. The case found its way to court and Bollea famously won, the verdict financially crippling both Gawker and owner Nick Denton and spelling the end of the website.

But if you didn't know the particulars of the case, there was a more sordid tale being spun in the background as Bollea's legal team seem to be acting not just to vindicate their client but destroy Gawker, and details soon pile up that make it both stranger than fiction and even more American than ever.

Because of some arcane laws around insurance and litigation, the lawsuits shifts so as to make Denton and members of his staff personally liable. Ill-considered past comments are dug up to tarnish players. The lead attorney working with Bollea, with his ghoulish pallor and atrocious hairpiece, seems like clumsy casting in the fictional version of this same story.

As it did in real life with enough attention to make it fairly well known, it soon emerges that conversative Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled Bollea's case because he had a score to settle with Gawker after they outed him as gay years before, apparently having to simply wait for the right court case to attach himself to.

The message of the movie then becomes clear – the wealthy and powerful will happily interfere with the guarantee of freedoms of the press to align with their business interests. And in the midst of a war being waged on the profession by the blowhard idiot who currently sits in the White House, it's virtually open season for the rich to go after media companies at a time when most of the latter are so broke they can't afford to defend themselves.

For anyone who's ever lived in the world with their eyes open, little of what goes on is a surprise (haven't you ever heard the name Rupert Murdoch?), but it's an interesting and well made piece of journalism on the part of the filmmakers to dig up examples of it happening through the old school arts of wearing down shoe leather and poring through obscure documents to make connections. Nobody Speak puts its money where its mouth is by doing exactly what it's telling us is important about the press.

So if you thought it was the story of a sex tape lawsuit you might be slightly disappointed when it goes off topic. As the Gawker lawsuit is finalised and the dust settles, the film moves to Las Vegas where the local paper of record (the Review Journal) is bought in secret by a local businessman a guy who gets a few too many sweetheart deals from the local gaming authorities and casino businesses.

It leads to an effort by a small cadre of LVRJ reporters to wield their skills against their own management, digging up the identity of their press-shy new owner, putting the story of their own forthcoming muzzling together, publishing it and leaving the company.

It's an important and worthy film, but it's also symptomatic of the state of the media today. Did anybody but Denton, his staffers and Fourth Estate believers care that Gawker was killed off? While Rome burns and the media industry crumbles even further, the rest of us get our news from the socio-political echo chambers of Facebook and Twitter updates and Google advertising.

On an inappropriately personal note, I've never been an investigative journalist like those who made their stand at the Review Journal (the kind of reporter usually depicted in the movies, which the general public thinks all journalists are like) and am more than slightly jealous and in awe of what they accomplished, but I'm as affected by the painful contractions in the industry as any other because there's no money for puff peices just like there's no money or resources for in depth digging up of the truth.

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