Political films have never been my first choice come movie night. Still, after indulging in a double feature of Frost/Nixon and The Ides of March one Sunday afternoon and enjoying both substantially, the subject matter of The Independent piqued my interest. Combine that with the opportunistic release of the film six days before the US 2022 midterm election, and I was all aboard The Independent train.
Directed by Amy Rice, the film centers around Eli (Jodie Turner-Smith), a rookie visionary journalist who works for a newspaper called The Washington Chronicle. After a significant decline in readership, the department boss Gordon (Stephen Lang), gathers his team for story pitch ideas to put the newspaper back on the map. Eager to prove herself, Eli suggests a news story concerning Nate Sterling (John Cena), a former gold medalist turned author turned independent presidential candidate for the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, Nick (Brian Cox), a prestigious journalist who also works at The Washington Chronicle, notices Eli’s enthusiasm at work and admires her courage. He is particularly impressed when she stands her ground with Gordon after he shuts down her first story pitch, only to give her second suggestion to two of her male coworkers. Perplexed by what he just witnessed, Nick invites Eli to dinner, where he praises her drive and dedication, later recruiting her to work on his column to help elevate her career.
Through a series of events that seem all a bit too conveniently laid out to move the story forward, Eli stumbles across evidence that uncovers catastrophic wrongdoings that could significantly impact the upcoming election.
Though Evan Parter’s story is solid on paper, embedding a modern atmosphere to reflect current times, the execution of such ideas feels underwhelming. Pacing throughout the film runs seamlessly, but the plot-driven focus remains surface-level throughout the film and at the expense of the characters.
Turner-Smith’s portrayal of Eli does give the audience a sense of female empowerment through her feistiness and drive to excel in a work environment of predominantly male counterparts, which is refreshing. Eli’s dynamic with Nick – with a fantastic performance from Cox – portrays an “us against the world” work mentality that is endearing, but both characters’ lack of depth leaves more to be desired.
When an illness in Eli’s family is added to the mix, it attempts to offset the character’s career-focused mentality up until this point but falls short. Although the news is heartbreaking and does show a brief vulnerable side to Eli, it feels a bit misplaced in the middle of a story with so many moving parts.
Choosing WWE superstar turned actor John Cena to play Nate Sterling is a great casting decision. Though he does all he can with the lines given and passes as a politician through his speech patterns and look, his dialogue feels gimmicky at times, followed by an anticlimactic reveal that centers around him at the close of the story.
Despite The Independent feeling lackluster, its greatest strength lies in the storyline, accompanied by an underlying message that hard work, determination, and teamwork in your career can have an exponential payoff. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table and could have explored a more compelling delivery, it’s no surprise that the idea grabbed the attention of producers in the industry who were eager to make it into a film.
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Although The Independent brings a solid storyline and explores the importance of female empowerment in the workplace, the film lacks substance and doesn’t bring anything new to the political thriller niche.
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