Mike Wallace Is Here (Mike Wallace) – This feels like a no-holds-barred documentary about America’s most feared journalist/interviewer. Wallace, who started out as a pitchman and game-show host, morphed into a disciple of Edward R. Morrow and Don Hewitt as well as a colleague of Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, and the rest of the 60 Minutes team.
His direct and occasionally obnoxious interview style cowered world leaders, celebrities, and unwitting victims. A call from Wallace or his producers stoked fear in some of the most powerful people in the world. He interviewed most of the world’s most important politicians and exposed despots and scandals. His reputation was legendary. His stamp on journalism was undeniable.
Behind the scenes, he was a self-admittedly crappy father. He was married enough times that he avoided the question in interviews. Where Mike Wallace Is Here showcases the intrepid reporter’s most famous interviews and his early career, it glosses over most of his personal foibles. Whether you love this documentary or dislike it probably revolves around whether you think it gives Wallace a pass on his personal life. I don’t think it ruins it at all.
Israeli Director Avi Belkin objectively presents the journalist who Americans know as the beating heart of 60 Minutes through all of its formidable run from 1968 through his death in 2012. But the film also chronicles the impact of the death of his 19-year-old son, Peter, in a mountain-climbing accident in 1962. It shows interviews of Wallace by Barbara Walters, Morley Safer, Dinah Shore, and Merv Griffin, which expose the real Wallace. A central theme of the film is that Wallace’s on-air personality was largely constructed – first as an actor, game-show host and product pitchman and later as a hard-nosed, relentless interviewer.
This is a flawed man with a huge ego who eventually suffered depression so deep that he almost killed himself. He changed the way Americans get the news. He left a wake and a legacy.
Premiered at Sundance earlier this year, Mike Wallace Is Here is a compelling, penetrating documentary worth finding.