Hilary Swank is a two time Oscar winner, for 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. Beginning in 2014, she took a three year break from acting to take care of her father who had a lung transplant. She’s back now where her acting talents are on full display playing Eileen Fitzgerald, a New York City investigative reporter whose reputation takes a hit and she’s forced to take a job on a small newspaper in Anchorage, Alaska.
Besides spotlighting Swank and a strong supporting cast, the plot hits on hot button issues. Like so many community newspapers, Alaska Daily is fighting for survival. A new owner, a wealthy businessman, Aaron Pritchard (Shane McRae), has thrown the paper a life line. Pritchard applauds Eileen’s hiring, admiring her tenacity and experience, but also is attracted to her, something she discourages, not wanting to be seen courting favoritism by dating the boss. And while the paper’s editor Stanley Cornik (Jeff Perry) appreciates what Eileen adds to the staff, the other reporters are put off by her outsider status and condescending attitude.
Perry angers one of his top reporters, Roz Friendly (Grace Dove), when he asks her to bring Eileen into her investigation of a murdered indigenous woman. Perry believes Roz can benefit from Eileen’s methods for gathering information and getting people to talk, but Roz, an indigenous woman, resents the intrusion. Eileen, however, manages to win Roz over, not only with her professionalism, but with her determination to bring justice for all the young indigenous women who are marginalized. A missing white woman is able to dominate headlines, while indigenous women are treated as runaways, never meriting publicity that might help to find them. (To bring home that point, Swank and Dove appear at the end of each episode declaring that such discrimination needs to stop.)
Grace Dove (Photo Credit: ABC/Darko Sikman)
While Alaska Daily is not a large, high profile paper (it’s located in a small strip mall), with so many media outlets being labeled “fake news” and enemies of democracy, journalists are frequently targets for violence. Eileen finds herself trapped in the newsroom, held hostage at gunpoint by a local who goes by the moniker of Concerned Citizen (Bill Dawes), who believes her reporting has caused him to lose his job. Her colleagues, who have retired to the local watering hole, learn about Eileen’s situation when they receive a text from an intern, Gabriel Martin (Pablo Castelblanco), who stayed behind to work on on story in the library. Soon the paper’s building is surrounded by police and Eileen does her best to talk her way out of a difficult situation.
Eileen’s rescued, but Gabriel is traumatized and announces he’s resigning, not willing to place himself in danger. Eileen, and another reporter, Jieun Park (Ami Park), talk him into staying. Jieun takes Gabriel to an abandoned building where they both toss cement bricks over a wall to release their anxiety and anger.
While Pritchard wants to save the newspaper, he’s often up against his powerful father, Conrad Pritchard (played by veteran actor John Getz), whose business interests depend on trashing the environment and paying off politicians. Conrad plans to mine on protected land, hoping a newly elected senator will sponsor legislation giving him cover. Reporters Claire Mundy (Meredith Holman) and Austin Greene (Craig Frank) take a helicopter over the land and produce a story that brings a halt to Conrad’s scheme. Furious, Conrad confronts his son and declares war on Alaska Daily.
While Alaska may seem a distant place to see these political themes play out, it’s actually the perfect setting. Local newspapers are critical in rural areas where local news is often overlooked by larger media outlets. Because the state has a large indigenous population, the plight of young indigenous women being ignored receives attention that may help turn the situation around.
Then there’s the beauty of Alaska where environmental and business interests continue to play out, resonating throughout the rest of the country and, of course, on Capitol Hill. Kudos to the cinematographers whose work displays our 50th state in all its beauty.
Films and TV series about journalists continue to fascinate. Alaska Daily is a welcome addition to the genre. Hopefully, it will have a long run.
Top Photo: Hilary Swank, credit – ABC/Darko Sikman