Kill the Messenger Review – Publish & Prosecute


Director: Michael Cuesta

Writers: Peter Landesman (screenplay), Gary Webb, Nick Schou (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Renner’s enjoyable performance.

Worst part: The exhaustive exposition.

Back in 1996, San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb changed the game for budding reporters, veteran editors, and everyone in between the world over. He published several articles condemning the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of specific Los Angeles communities. At this time, conspiracy theorists weren’t paid close attention to. Pushing the truthers into the background, society was much less jaded and skeptical…at least I hope so, anyway. Kill the Messenger strives to meticulously dissect the material.

Jeremy Renner.

Kill the Messenger, despite the intriguing narrative and starry cast, primarily illuminates  politics and media’s current relationship. Despite the original story’s grit, the movie – based on Webb’s expose Dark Alliance and Nick Schou’s book of the same name – strives to reach mass audiences. Heads up journo students, fully fledged reporters, and editors: this movie takes the profession and tares it to shreds! Throughout, that “I can’t believe this actually happened!” feeling lingers in the consciousness. Thanks to this, everything hits hard! If you can’t stand a history lesson, get out now! The story revolves around Webb(Jeremy Renner)’s clashing professional and personal lives. After completing one of the year’s biggest stories, exploring the confiscation of homes from on-trial drug-running suspects, our subject becomes one of San Jose Mercury News’ biggest hitters. Known for his go-getter attitude and revelatory writing style, his hunger for truth and ratings turns novel ideas into hit stories. Keeping a close relationship with his editors, Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) and Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his nice-guy persona nabs him front-page leads and keen-eyed sources. At home, despite he and wife Susan(Rosemarie DeWitt)’s marital quarrels, his family is happy and tight-knit. He receives a call from Coral (Paz Vega), girlfriend of a notorious, on-trial cocaine trafficker. The man, prosecuted against by Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), is rumoured to have worked with the US Government in the 1980s.

Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Oliver Platt.

Finding the link between the CIA and Nicaraguan anti-communist rebels, Webb unearths disastrous wrongdoings and their effect on LA’s African-American community. Throughout most of Kill the Messenger, we follow a David vs. Goliath tale of professional line-drawing and personal justification. This docudrama, exploring the decade’s biggest journalistic investigation, depicts an note-worthy rise-and-fall tale. As the investigation continues, it explains each step and tidbit. Given a notepad, interesting sources, and momentous revelations, Webb succinctly tugs each thread. The turning point, hitting during Webb’s interview with incarcerated drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross (Michael K. Williams), establishes the movie’s immense tone and purpose. Throughout the first half, as the fact vs. perspective feud simmers, his mission attracts lawyers, criminals, and crime lords. Despite the meaty material and searing relevance, it’s afraid of exploring the political, ethical, and social ramifications. Some sequences, depicting heartening interactions between our characters, outline the movie’s immense value. Sadly, others stretch its believability to breaking point. Telling and not showing, the narrative – switching from intriguing journo-drama to vague corporate-thriller – skims over vital details. The second half – depicting Webb’s conflicts with the CIA, editors, and rival media outlets – delivers broad characters and a mind-numbing anti-climax.  Whilst interviewing Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia), Webb’s dilemma – choosing whether or not to publish this information – is highlighted obtusely.

“American kids did die and are still dying, just not the ones you care about apparently.” (Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), Kill the Messenger).

Renner, Michael K. Williams & Tim Blake Nelson.

Worthy of consideration, Kill the Messenger‘s  subject matter remains timeless. Director Michael Cuesta – known for TV dramas including Homeland and Dexter – obviously loves the material. Despite his love of the facts, the independent filmmaker struggled to tell them. Leaping between major twists and turns, this docudrama – unlike All the President’s Men and The Insider – distorts enthralling details with underutilised plot-threads and weighty exposition. Aiming at a specific demographic, it expects us to know everything about these events. Despite its many facts and viewpoints, the movie never crafts an interesting agenda. As Webb is attacked mercilessly by the government and media, the broad storytelling and free-wheeling tangents muddy its points. Also, it never examines LA’s drug scene or Nicaragua’s ever-present issues. Telling a straight-forward version of events, Cuesta’s inexperience comes across. Shaking the camera and dimming the lights, his style carries several TV-drama-thriller traits. Examining modern media’s moral and commercial well-being, this docudrama captures the link between conspiracies, government actions, mass culpability, and journalistic integrity. Thrust into a dangerous world, Webb is a fascinating and likable subject. Renner, hopping between blockbusters (The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and drama-thrillers (The Hurt Locker, The Town), delivers a shades-of-grey turn as the notable journo. Injecting scorn and charisma into the role, this underrated A-lister deserves immense credit.

Studying the nihilistic, dog-eat-dog world of professional journalism, Kill the Messenger tells a story worth exploring further. Despite the promising conceits, it jumps awkwardly between fact and fantasy. Giving its supporting players only one-or-two scenes each, Renner’s hearty performance carries this docudrama. Stripping away his Tinseltown glow, the forty-something actor returns to character-actor roots for this grueling role. Truth be told, he deserves much more than Hawkeye and Hansel.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-acted docudrama.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

The Place Beyond the Pines Review – Crime & Commiseration


Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan


Release date: March 29th, 2013

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 140 minutes


4/5

Best part: The Oscar-calibre performances.

Worst part: The final third.

A man’s greatest influence, and fear, should be his father. Many brilliant movies have bared their characters’ souls to convey this theme (the Godfather trilogy). In The Place Beyond the Pines, this moral is valuable to every character skulking through its grungy settings. The film is a touching and brutal look at how ideologies, passed down from father to son, can still be affected by everything and everyone around us.

Ryan Gosling.

This movie is unlike any other coming out in the next couple of months. It requires a significant amount of attention and thought. The film is a sprawling mix of three profound stories – looking at the cops and criminals of Middle America. The first tale is one of regret and alienation. Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a travelling carnival, finds out that his womanising ways have paid a price. His old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), to Glanton’s shock, has been looking after a child they conceived a year beforehand. Glanton quits the carnival to look after their child. Unable to find a job, he and Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) rob banks to provide for everyone involved. In the next story, heroic cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is struggling to cope with both his newfound notoriety and the force. Pressured by both shady cops, such as Deluca (Ray Liotta), and his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne), Cross begins to manipulate people to elevate his reputation and rank. The third story is based on the consequences of Glanton and Cross’ actions. With Cross running for Attorney General, his troublesome son AJ (Emory Cohen) is doing him no favours. AJ’s friendship with similarly disturbed teen Jason (Dane DeHaan) could yield major problems.

Bradley Cooper.

Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) is a talented independent film-maker. The Place Beyond the Pines is essentially three indie-dramas in one. The subject matter and tone are polarising aspects of this heartening crime-thriller. Throughout its exhaustive run-time, there are a plethora of emotions and decisions affecting each character. The story is divided in an intricate yet disjointed way. These stories divide the movie much like a play; containing their own messages and sub-plots which affect the course of nature. The power of masculinity is conveyed in light of the film’s many shocking developments. For example, the first third separates the men from the boys (figuratively and literally). However, I couldn’t detect a significant idea relevant to all three stories. Each third says something completely different to the others. By placing the most enthralling story in the first third, the following two seem uncomfortable and anti-climactic. It’s rare to see a film with such originality and yet so many noticeable influences. Glanton’s rotten journey contains shades of East of Eden and The Town. The second third contains elements of crime-thrillers like Copland and L.A. Confidential. While the final third is a disturbed concoction of Boyz n the Hood and Stand By Me. However, Cianfrance removes any trace of ‘Hollywood’ so as not to stick too close to those referential movies. Cianfrance’s style lifts what could’ve been a tired and convoluted drama. In fact, Cianfrance proves he can handle intense crime material similarly to James Mangold and Ben Affleck. The first act weaves itself seamlessly into the second. This is done via an eclectic motor-bike/car chase through the tired streets of Scynecdoche, New York. One unbroken, shaky-cam sequence provides a 90 second thrill-ride that tests the nerves of both the characters and audience.

“If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.” (Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), The Place Beyond the Pines).

Eva Mendes.

Cianfrance brings an earthy aesthetic to this already grim spectacle. From the opening scene, the camera never stays still – capturing the inherent poignancy of this narrative. The opening is a seemingly unending shot of Glanton’s broad shoulders (Gosling certainly has an enviable physique). The shot illuminates his debilitating situation and existential angst. The editing has a poetic beauty that immerses you in these vastly different stories. While the soundtrack, by alternative singer-songwriter Mike Patton, lends the film a nuanced and affecting twang. However, Cianfrance’s style doesn’t specifically reside in the film’s aesthetic quality. He pulls back far enough to let the nuanced performances do the talking. Cianfrance significantly develops every important character. The top cop vs. greasy criminal conflict is presented as a gruelling fight for survival. Cianfrance puts a different spin on character types seen in movies like American Gangster and Mystic River. Despite the overt type-casting, the moody and breathtaking performances stand out. Gosling and Cooper strip away their ‘pretty-boy’ personas to deliver disgustingly affecting turns. Gosling brings brevity to his ‘loveable criminal’ role. Despite his many distracting tattoos, Glanton’s calm and creepy personality is mesmerising and strangely potent. Cooper proves that he is one of the best actors working today. His character’s journey is both frustrating and entertaining – allowing him to see the forest through the trees. Cross’ questionable methods convey a character who will stop at nothing to reap the rewards he was promised. Liotta, Byrne, Mendes, and Mendelsohn deliver the crackling dialogue in ways that lend dimension to their archetypal roles. Bruce Greenwood also delivers an engaging performance as the irritable police commissioner. Cohen, on the other hand, delivers an unconvincing Tom Hardy impression.

The Place Beyond the Pines is about the obvious and subtle differences between Gen-X and Gen-Y. The movie delivers a heartening and profound statement about how our actions in the past, present, and future may intertwine. With this tense and well-performed crime-thriller, Cianfrance proves he is one of the best indie-drama directors working today.

Verdict: A moody, scintillating, and visceral crime/drama-thriller.