Jour­nal­ists as tar­gets

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEWS - David Strat­ton

Kill the Mes­sen­ger (M) Limited re­lease Pride (M) Limited re­lease The Young and Prodi­gious TS Spivet (M)

Limited re­lease

THE im­por­tance of a free press is un­der­lined yet again in a film based on the role of Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Gary Webb (1955-2004) in ex­pos­ing links be­tween the gov­ern­ment, anti-com­mu­nist Con­tras in Nicaragua, and the sud­den avail­abil­ity of large quan­ti­ties of crack-co­caine in the black ghet­tos of large US ci­ties. Webb’s rev­e­la­tions, which fol­lowed the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal that rocked the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion in the mid-1980s, were hotly con­tested at the time and es­sen­tially dis­missed, though he has since been largely vin­di­cated. It’s a grip­ping story and has been brought to the screen with con­fi­dent skill by Michael Cuesta (di­rec­tor of some ac­claimed tele­vi­sion drama, in­clud­ing Six Feet Un­der and Home­land) and screen­writer Peter Lan­des­man, who has based his story on the book Kill the Mes­sen­ger, by Nick Schou, and Webb’s own ar­ti­cles and sub­se­quent book, Dark Al­liance.

Jeremy Ren­ner, who plays Webb, brings to the character a flinty charm; his Webb is am­bi­tious and im­pa­tient. Mar­ried to Sue (Rose­marie DeWitt) and fa­ther of three chil­dren, he’s a rather fool­hardy character who takes more risks than he should. He’s work­ing for a small lo­cal news­pa­per, the San Jose Mer­cury News, in the mid-90s when he writes a story about the role of the Drug En­force­ment Agency in seiz­ing the prop­erty of sus­pected drug deal­ers. As a re­sult he re­ceives a call from Co­ral Baca (Paz Vega) who has in­for­ma­tion about the links be­tween traf­fick­ers and the CIA. This leads Webb to the prison cell of jailed drug czar Ricky Ross (Michael K. Wil­liams) and even­tu­ally to Nicaragua where he in­ter­views another big-time crim­i­nal, Nor­win Me­ne­ses (Andy Gar­cia), who is in­car­cer­ated in a loosely con­trolled prison.

As a re­sult of th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Webb per­suades his ed­i­tors Jerry Cep­pos (Oliver Platt) and Anna Si­mons (Mary El­iz­a­beth Win­stead) to al­low him to pro­ceed with a three-part ar­ti­cle that im­me­di­ately puts the cat among the pi­geons. Not only are sec­tions of the gov­ern­ment out­raged but so are larger, more pres­ti­gious news­pa­pers, such as the Los An­ge­les Times, whose se­nior staff don’t take kindly to be­ing scooped. Webb’s story is an en­thralling one and the film is an in­trigu­ing and of­ten ex­cit­ing ad­di­tion to the long list of good movies that deal with news­pa­pers and jour­nal­ism. It may not be in the same class as the clas­sic of the genre, All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, but it’s a timely re­minder of the pres­sures, stresses and dan­gers faced by in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists the world over. ABOUT 10 years be­fore Webb wrote his story, on the other side of the At­lantic the Thatcher gov­ern­ment and Welsh coalmin­ers were locked in a bit­ter strug­gle. is a feel-good movie that ex­plores a lit­tle-known as­pect of the min­ers’ strike and, like Kill the Mes­sen­ger, it’s ba­si­cally a true story. It’s a story of an un­usual al­liance that came about with the for­ma­tion of Les­bians and Gays Support the Min­ers, a small group con­sist­ing of a half-dozen gay men and one les­bian who de­cide to raise money for the strik­ing min­ers ap­par­ently be­cause they see sol­i­dar­ity in the fact both ho­mo­sex­u­als and coalmin­ers are con­stantly vil­i­fied by the po­lice, the gov­ern­ment and the tabloid press.

At first, the min­ers — most of whom have never know­ingly en­coun­tered a gay per­son be­fore — are re­luc­tant to wel­come th­ese ea­ger fundrais­ers into their es­sen­tially con­ser­va­tive com­mu­nity. But, as is the na­ture of th­ese things (es­pe­cially in this kind of Bri­tish movie), once the op­pos­ing sides get to know one another they have a lot of fun to­gether (it helps that Jonathan, Do­minic West, an un­in­hib­ited ac­tor, is so good at danc­ing). The LGSM mem­bers in­clude Mark (Ben Sch­net­zer), a refugee from North­ern Ire­land; Gethin (An­drew Scott), a book­store owner who was raised in South Wales; Steph (Faye Marsay) and young Joe (George MacKay), whose par­ents don’t know about his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and who isn’t yet old enough to have con­sen­sual sex with a man (he’s 20); while their new-found Welsh al­lies are played by a tal­ented cast of Bri­tish character ac­tors in­clud­ing Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Con­si­dine.

Stage di­rec­tor Matthew Warchus loses no op­por­tu­nity for a touch of sen­ti­ment, and the film is pre­dictable on just about ev­ery level (ex­cept per­haps for a cou­ple of last-minute real-life events). But you’d have to have a hard heart not to re­spond to th­ese larger-than-life char­ac­ters and a mes­sage that earnestly re­jects all forms of prej­u­dice. The Welsh scenery makes a pleas­ant back­drop to a dis­arm­ing film about or­di­nary peo­ple achiev­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things.

un­like the other two films dis­cussed on this page, is pure fan­tasy. The source is a book by Reif Larsen, and this English lan­guage French pro­duc­tion is di­rected by Jean-Pierre Je­unet, whose most fa­mous film, Amelie, rep­re­sents the peak of his dis­tinc­tively height­ened visual style. Es­sen­tially this is a road movie for kids, made in 3-D, and un­ques­tion­ably glo­ri­ous to be­hold. But while it looks out­stand­ingly good, it falls short dra­mat­i­cally, es­pe­cially in the later stages.

Ten-year-old Te­cum­seh Spar­row Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is a ge­nius. He lives with his fa­ther, Te­cum­seh Eli­jah (Callum Keith Ren­nie), an old-fash­ioned cow­boy, his mother, Clair (He­lena Bon­ham-Carter), a sin­gle-minded en­to­mol­o­gist, his older sis­ter Gra­cie (Ni­amh Wilson) and his twin brother Lay­ton (Jakob Davies) in a re­motely lo­cated house in ru­ral Mon­tana — though the film was shot in Canada. Lay­ton’s ob­ses­sion with guns re­moves him from the story early on, leav­ing his brother to take cen­tre stage. TS has in­vented a per­pet­ual mo­tion ma­chine and sent it to the Smith­so­nian in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Un­der­stand­ably think­ing that the mas­ter­mind be­hind the ma­chine is a ma­ture adult, the Smith­so­nian’s Ms Jib­sen (Judy Davis) in­vites him to re­ceive an award and make a speech. TS sets off alone, with only a suit­case, to cross the coun­try and ful­fil his des­tiny.

Along the way he has sev­eral en­coun­ters with mostly friendly peo­ple, all of whom are mildly en­ter­tain­ing. Je­unet’s love of visual tin­ker­ing leads to some charm­ing ad­di­tions to the sim­ple nar­ra­tive. But Catlett isn’t the most charis­matic child ac­tor, and though he gives an ad­e­quate per­for­mance, TS and his ad­ven­tures are never quite as entrancing as Je­unet clearly wants them to be. It’s a bit of a mys­tery, too, why Davis is given a tor­rent of four-let­ter words in what is clearly meant to be a movie for chil­dren. In the end the film sig­nally fails to reach the level to which it clearly as­pires.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.