The Independent review – why is this political thriller lacking?

By Marc Miller
Published: November 1, 2022 (Last updated: March 6, 2023)


The Independent’s underlining theme of freedom of the press is more potent than its delivery.

Here is our spoiler-free review of the Peacock film The Independent, starring Ann Dowd and John Cena.

Hollywood loves nothing more than a comic book movie and a film depicting the press as saving democracy or the election process. You have had George Clooney’s Good Night, Good Luck, based on reporting Edward Murrow’s pursuit of exposing McCarthy’s senate investigations. You have fictional political thrillers, like State of Play and another Clooney film, The Ides of March, which tell leaders who abuse their power.

Of course, you have All the Presidents Men, a touchstone film about political reporting on the true story of Watergate. The Peacock film, The Independent, has more to do with those fictional political thrillers. Still, this a candy-coated version, whose underlining theme of freedom of the press is more potent than its delivery. This is a shame because freedom of the press is vital to our democracy and an exciting plot to any film or series. 

The film follows the final home stretch of a presidential campaign, one that features an election that most people may consider to be among the most important in this country’s history. (As Colonel Nathan R. Jessup might say, is there any other kind?). You have the typical current Republican incumbent President (Victor Slezak). A candidate (Mass’s Ann Dowd) has the best chance to become the first female president since, well, you know. And the most viable independent candidate, depending on your age bracket since Ralph Nadar or Ross Perot. That man is Nate Sterling (an affable John Cena), a Yale graduate and former athlete beloved by both sides of the aisle and progressive enough to make true change.

Covering the story is a young and ambitious reporter, Eli (Queen & Slim‘s Jodie Turner-Smith), who is under pressure to produce reports that pander to the ones who subscribe to the likes of the National Enquirer. However, she wants to draft a story about a school district in West Virginia. Why? Because they are dropping to a four-day school week because of budget cuts. A district that has a 90% minority population. Her boss, the managing editor (Stephen Lang), berates her. Eli then panics by offering a source that Sterling will announce. This is something she heard from her boyfriend and member of the Sterling campaign, Lucas (Luke Kirby). While the editor dismisses her, Nick Booker, a Bob Woodward type, is impressed by her. Nick tells her to bring in the best thing she has ever written.

The Independent was directed by Emmy Award-winning Amy Rice (The Newsroom), working with a script by Evan Parker, which relies on the viewer’s interest in chasing down a story of stark political corruption. In today’s day and age, there is usually no in-between. You either avoid those stories or eat them up. Either way, it can be risky from a decade of political turmoil. Here, Eli uncovers a potential story of financial fraud, one that implicates one of the candidates in dipping their hands into public funds from the poorest areas to fund their political campaigns.

You have a good cast here, with the accomplished Cox, the well-respected Lang, and Academy Award nominee Dowd delivering every line they have with more gusto than Pavarotti. Turner-Smith is fair but not great in the role. I would have liked to see her offer a more young and brash attitude that reflected the reporter’s behavior that matched Cox or Lang. There is just something about Cena that is so sterile and polished when he goes dramatic in roles, which, understandably, is almost a satire on the modern political candidate. However, he does bring an endearing quality to the part, even though every time you look at the former wrestler, you cannot help but smile and forget he is not in a comedy.

The film’s plot is timely, especially considering the new coverage of the Southern Mississippi and Brett Favre welfare scandal. A news story that broke a few months ago has documented communication of political officials taking money from one of the country’s poorest areas, predominantly minority, to build a state-of-the-art volleyball arena. Here, Eli finds that, even though the country is in a recession, the lottery usually rises during that time. Yet, it is down two million every draw. This is a well-intentioned plot but convoluted. Also, the timing and randomness of this discovery are far from tangential, which makes for an odd pairing of something confusing that is discovered and connected in happenstance.

The Independent has its heart in the right place. I’m on the fence about this film because it does have some nice qualities. While the film has some entertaining and reliable performances from a good cast, the plot comes together too cleanly. Without the type of verve to create enough adequate tension and a handful of needless subplots, The Independent is too light on complexities to be taken seriously.

Though, the filmmakers make a valiant effort.  

What did you think of the Peacock film The Independent (2022)? Comment below.

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