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Avi Belkin's Mike Wallace Is Here interrogates the career of the newsman's 50-year career.

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  • Mike Wallace Is Here
  • Directed by Avi Belkin
  • Classification: PG; 94 minutes

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“This is a Wallace question,” says Morley Safer, beginning a cordial interrogation of Mike Wallace, near the top of this new documentary about his notorious 60 Minutes colleague. “Why are you sometimes such a prick?”

If filmmaker Avi Belkin never settles on the answer – Wallace, who died in 2012, wasn’t much given to introspection – he teases out some of what fuelled the newsman’s 50-year campaign to hold those in power to account: insatiable curiosity, self-absorption, a need to give meaning to his life after the accidental death of his eldest son and a lifelong insecurity over a lack of formal training and criticism that he was as much a showman as a newsman.

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Working almost exclusively from more than 1,400 hours of tape in the CBS archives – including outtakes – Belkin strings together a brisk clip-job of a professional muckraker whose personal demons lay just under the surface of his public face. Interviews Wallace did with others – Bette Davis and Rod Serling on their workaholism, Larry King on his string of failed marriages, Leona Helmsley on the loss of her son, Eisenhower cabinet member Thomas Pike on his clinical depression – segue into interviews with Wallace in which he reveals his own similar struggles.

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Belkin floats the notion that Wallace’s sharp-tongued style paved the way for the lying loudmouths who now populate our fractured media landscape (he flicks at Bill O’Reilly, Alex Jones and the U.S. President), but it feels like a half-hearted bid for contemporary relevance. At least his prickishness had purpose.

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