Journalists as targets
Kill the Messenger (M) Limited release Pride (M) Limited release The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet (M)
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.