Review by Sean Boelman
Sometimes, the films with the simplest premises end up being some of the most well-executed. Cold Copy is an intense and very entertaining movie, and while it may not be as challenging as it clearly had the potential to be, there is little denying how effective it is.
The film follows a young and ambitious journalism student who seizes the opportunity of a lifetime while in the class of a high-profile television anchor, being forced to resort to cutthroat methods to make a name for herself. Although the movie follows a familiar formula, its familiarity is hardly distracting, as everything about the film is so well done.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the movie is that it doesn’t explore the full potential of its themes. There is obviously a lot that could be said here about the ethics of journalism, but the film’s commentary on this is limited to the basic questions that anyone with basic media literacy would be able to answer.
That said, what the movie lacks in substance, it makes up for in gripping, sleek style. For all intents and purposes, it’s best to think of this as a Whiplash for journalism students. It’s an extremely stressful film, cramming in a lot of story in just about an hour and a half, but effectively maintaining tension throughout its entirety.
The editing and soundtrack go a long way in giving the movie the sense of kineticism and dynamism it needs to keep viewers glued to the screen. Although the cinematography isn’t anything extraordinarily impressive on a formal level, the film’s overall gray aesthetic is effective considering that the whole movie is about moral and ethical ambiguity.
Helberg’s script does a great job of giving the audience characters towards which we can feel utterly ambivalent. Almost all of the characters are doing awful things and constantly backstabbing each other, yet one can’t help but admire the grit and persistence they show in paving a path forward for themselves, no matter the cost.
The film also boasts an impressive cast who makes the most of their somewhat shallow roles. Bel Powley is very compelling as the scrappy young protagonist, and Jacob Tremblay plays the mysterious young subject of Powley’s investigation with surprising subtlety. However, it is Tracee Ellis Ross who stands out the most, playing the larger-than-life TV personality whose specter-like presence hangs over the movie’s conflict.
Cold Copy is a gripping thriller with tense pacing, excellent performances, and solid filmmaking. If her ability to create something absolutely anxiety-inducing is any indication, Roxine Helberg is poised for a bright future as a filmmaker.
Cold Copy screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.