This drama is a love letter to investigative journalism, and it's earnest (perhaps too much so?) in conveying an important lesson from recent history. Of course, it's sort of playing with a stacked deck: The characters speak in fully formed thoughts informed by what is now history. That can give off a whiff of preachiness, especially during segments of rather thick exposition. And while the film sideswipes some of the administration statements and some of the reporting that turned out to be false, it doesn't collide with them head-on, so the dramatic conflict is limited. But Harrelson is a dependable screen presence, and it's a pleasure to see Marsden in a mature, serious role. The movie's home life/budding romance scenes are fine, due largely to the skill of actresses Milla Jovovich and Jessica Biel, but they feel like distractions from the massive, unfolding central story.
Reiner has made many fine films, including classics like The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and Misery. Here, alas, he directs with a heavy hand, choosing portentous music and cinematography (how many newsrooms are lit that dramatically?). The script by Joey Hartstone (TV's The Good Fight) strains to cover the expanse required in only 90 minutes. It is intelligent work, though, with nuggets that sound pulled from the reporters' notebooks, such as, "We need to blow something up. Not enough targets in Afghanistan." And, to its credit, the film tries for non-partisanship: While it's a Republican administration that's caught lying, the movie doesn't spare the Democrats who voted for invasion or the sometimes-called-liberal news outlets, including the New York Times, that didn't investigate rigorously. The film tries hard to make the connection between these political decisions and the impact on people's lives. But despite its good intentions and intelligence, Shock and Awe doesn't deliver the impact promised by its name.