erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2014 posts

Monday November 10, 2014

Movie Review: Locke (2014)


For 90 minutes, “Locke” barely leaves the inside of a BMW X5 heading to London. Along the way, the driver, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), talks to various people on his computerized car phone but it’s basically a one-man show. Be forewarned. On the other hand, if you’re going to do a one-man show, Hardy ain’t a bad choice.

Why the drive? Ivan Locke is in the midst of abandoning his family and job for another woman. Let me rephrase that. Ivan Locke is in the midst of abandoning a family he loves, and a high-paying construction job for which he is immensely suited, and of which he is immensely proud, for a woman he doesn’t know and doesn’t particularly like. You almost wonder if the movie began as an exercise for writer-director Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”). Can you show a man abandoning everything worthwhile and still retain empathy for him?

You can. We do. The bigger question is whether we buy it.

Fixing things
Locke is a precise, calm, super-responsible man. He’s a man who fixes things. “I’ll fix it,” he says, again and again. “It’ll all go back to normal.” Tom Hardy LockeBut the longer he drives, the more he’s breaking everything.

The other woman? She’s pregnant with his child. She’s about to give birth. And she has no one else. So he has to be with her. Despite the fact that he’s expected at home to watch a big football match with the kids and he’s expected at work early the next morning for the biggest concrete pour in European history. It will be the base for a 50-plus-story building.

Here’s who Locke mainly talks to as he drives:

  • His wife, Katrina (voice: Ruth Wilson), to whom he confesses his past indescretion.
  • The other woman, Bethan (voice: Olivia Colman), who is about to give birth.
  • His subordinate, Donal (voice: Andrew Scott, channeling Chris O’Dowd), who has to supervise the pour the next morning.

None are helpful. His wife collapses from the news, then rises up with vindictiveness; Bethan complains, whimpers, keeps asking if he loves her even when it’s apparent to all that he does not; and Donal begins to drink and fuck up on the job.

Locke tries to fix all of these things.

He also talks to a fourth person, but not on the phone. It’s his dead father, whose weakness and irresponsibility made Locke the super-responsible man he is. Locke is so responsible he can’t let a baby be born into the world alone. It’s a “good intentions” movie, and the highway to London is his path to hell.

Except I didn’t quite buy it. Choosing Bethan and the baby over everything else? There’s too much martyrdrom in that. The scales are too heavy on the other side.

That the movie stays interesting is a testament to Hardy and to the character he and Knight create. Years ago I did the Proust Questionnaire, and “calm” was my answer for the quality I most like in a man. Hardy gives us this. He also shows us the turmoil, the anger, raging within the calm.

Patricia and I argued over the accent. I assumed Russian immigrant—thus that extra-precise English pronunciation—but Patricia thought Irish. It also borders at times on Indian/British. The correct answer? It’s Welsh. Except that’s not the correct answer, either. Hardy thought he was basing it on a Welsh bloke but the guy later admitted he grew up in Surrey. So take your pick.

Fixing things, the next generation
Question: Does everyone around Locke have to be this much of a fuck-up? Or is Locke secretly attracted to fuck-ups? So he can fix their problems. So he can be the man his father never was.

Answer: There’s a grace moment at the end—the sound of a baby being born into the world—but the real release for me, and I believe for Locke, comes in a conversation with his son, Eddie (voice: Tom Holland), who, unaware of the emotional turmoil raging, has been talking to him excitedly about the football match that they were all supposed to watch together. Near the end, he calls again. This time, Locke doesn’t pick up, he just listens to the voice message.

By now Eddie knows. He knows things are broken—perhaps irrevocably. So he tells his dad about a goal that a player named Caldwell scored. Except he knows it’s still not right. Because his dad wasn’t there and his mother was crying. So he tries to fix it. He tries to fix it in the manner of his dad:

We recorded it for you, so you have to come home and watch it, okay? You have to come home, and I have an idea, okay? We'll pretend we don't know the score, and pretend it's happening then, it's live. And me and Sean will go mad all the same, and you can have your beer and Mum can make the sausages. So that's what we'll do.

“The Lockes were a long line of shit,” Locke says to his dead father, “but I straightened the name out.” Now Eddie is doing the straightening. He is trying, like his father, to make it all go back to normal. 

Posted at 06:24 AM on Nov 10, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday November 07, 2014

Movie Review: Jappeloup (2014)


More than halfway through “Jappeloup,” about a champion French show-jumping horse of the 1980s, Jappeloup’s farmgirl handler, Raphaëlle Dalio (Lou de Laage, looking impossibly pretty, like the kid sister of Adèle Exarchopoulos), takes to task Jappeloup’s owner and rider, Pierre Durand (Guillaume Canet, a cross between Patrick Dempsey and Albert Brooks).

Durand’s been sulking for most of the movie and particularly recently. During the 1984 Olympics, with millions watching, Jappeloup threw him (in slow motion), and, despite pep talks from his father, Serge (Daniel Auteuil), and his wife, Nadia (Marina Hands), in which both urge him not to sell the horse to a rich American (Donald Sutherland), Durand does it anyway, breaking everyone’s heart in the process. But after his father dies and his wife gives birth, and after stewing in his own juices long enough, he comes around. JappeloupA bad blood test causes the Americans to momentarily step back from the deal, allowing Durand to nix it completely. Then he searches for Raphaëlle. She’s hanging and smoking with friends at a French café, as pretty French farmgirls do. And she lays into him.

“In two years, you never spent two minutes in his stall!” she says. “You were champion of France but you know nothing of horses.” He’s an animal, she says, but you never even thought about him.

Sadly, the movie can be accused of the same. Its title character is secondary at best. It’s called “Jappeloup” but it might as well be called “Pierre Durand.”

Montage is a French word
The movie is based upon a book called “Crin Noir” by Karine Devilder, subtitled (or surtitled) “Pierre Durand et Jappeloup de Luze,” which was adapted by Canet, an actor who not only wrote the international French hits “Tell No One” and “Little White Lies,” but was raised by horse breeders and nearly became a professional horse rider himself.

Parfait, non?

No, unfortunately.

We begin with Durand as a kid who literally gets back on the horse after a fall; but as a young man he divides his time between being a lawyer and a horse rider, realizes he can’t do both, and gives up the horse riding. Meanwhile, Jappeloup, a small, feisty horse, is being trained at his father’s farm.

A lot of it is just the wait for the inevitable. Durand will come back to horse riding generally, and Jappeloup specifically, otherwise why are we watching this? And he does. But it takes a while. And it’s generally not worth the wait.

“Montage” is a French word but they overdo it here. They keep coming—one after the other. “Everyone’s talking about this horse!” an announcer proclaims at the 1982 French nationals, which caused me to do a double-take. Last we heard, Jappeloup was a screw-up and nobody could ride him. Now he’s a step away from being a national champion? And everyone’s talking about him?

The movie, directed by Christian Duguay, who mostly directs TV movies, keeps doing this. It focuses on Durand’s dithering, then gives us horse-training montages, then glosses over the victories to get to the defeats. It’s reductive like a Hollywood movie but in a peculiarly French way. But it all leads to a Hollywood ending. In the 1988 Olympics, Jappeloup makes that final jump (in slow motion).

Me, I was urging him to throw Durand one more time. For the surprise if nothing else. For the comedy of it all.

Ne le dis a personne
I saw the film with my friend Jim, a horse lover, and he was happy enough afterwards because it was about horses, but even he knew it was a mixed bag. We spend more than two hours watching this movie about Jappeloup but we never spend more than two minutes in his stall. “Jappeloup” was a semi-champion at the French box office but it knows nothing of horses. Or at least it’s not telling. 

Posted at 06:51 AM on Nov 07, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday November 03, 2014

Movie Review: Fury (2014)


In “End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer, two cops shoot the shit inside their patrol car while trying to clean up the enemy territory of south central LA. It was one of the best movies of 2012.

In “Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, five soldiers shoot the shit inside their tank, called “Fury,” while trying to clean up the enemy territory of Nazi Germany in April 1945. It’s one of the best movies of 2014.

It’s also as brutal as fuck. Bodies are run over by tanks, burned alive, blown to bits. We see a portion of a face inside a tank. We’re meat; we mix with mud. Prisoners are executed in cold blood. By us. We’re the good guys but we’re not good guys.

The movie begins with a man on a white horse, patrolling through the fog and the smoke of a recent battle, but he’s not a man on a white horse; he’s a German officer and he’s quickly killed by Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), the leader of the Fury squad. It’s Ayer putting us on notice. No men on white horses here, kids. No John Waynes.

Fury, starring Brad PittYou know the leap in realism between John Wayne war movies and, say, HBO’s “Band of Brothers”? “Fury” almost feels like that leap again. It makes you long for the moral clarity of “Band of Brothers.”

You or him: Pick
Someday, maybe next year, dissertations will be written about the scene in the German apartment. There’s so much going on there. So many subtle and blunt things. So many strong, mixed emotions. Theirs and ours.

It’s April 1945, and the Fury tank squad reconnects with the U.S. Army in Germany. “Where’s the rest of 3rd platoon?” Sgt. Collier is asked by his new commander. “We’re it,” Collier says. A moment later, he kneels beside a tank, out of sight, and exhales. It’s his real face. We won’t see it much.

In that last battle, Collier lost one of his tank drivers, and when the fresh-faced replacement, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), shows up, we get this exchange:

Ellison: I’m your new assistant tank driver.
Sgt. Collier [after a once-over]: No, you are not.

He isn’t; he’s a clerk. He can type 60 words a minute. He’s never even seen the inside of a tank. But you know the Army: FUBAR. So now he’s an assistant tank driver.

He’s also our eyes and ears for the movie. He’s our introduction to the “Fury” team. They can’t be our eyes and ears, since they’ve seen too much and done too much. They all have thousand-yard stares, particularly Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf, in an incredible performance), who quotes scripture when necessary; who calls upon God’s grace and doesn’t expect it. The others are Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Ayer regular Michael Pena), who’s a sly jokester, and Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), who’s a more loutish jokester. They’re all this close to losing it.

They’ve certainly lost humanity, and that’s what worries Collier about Norman; he has too much of it. He’s a danger to himself and to them. During his first patrol, his inaction causes the death of their commanding officer, who is burned alive in front of all of them. “That’s your fault, that’s your fucking fault!” Collier yells, hitting the kid about the head. He tells him how he made a promise to himself to keep the men alive. “You are getting in the way of that!” he shouts. Then we get a great, powerful scene. It’s one of the best scenes of the year and the second-best of this movie.

On the outskirts of some woods between German towns, an enemy soldier, looking decidedly un-Teutonic, looking vaguely Jewish, begs for his life. He shows a picture of his family but gets no mercy. Laughter instead. Collier orders Norman to kill him in cold blood, but Norman refuses. Collier hits him, taunts him, bullies him. He threatens his life. He starts out saying that it’s Norman’s job to kill the German just as it’s the German’s job to kill Ellison; then it devolves. “He kills you or you kill him,” he says, brandishing the revolver: “You or him: Pick!” Norman, surprisingly, picks himself. “Kill me!” he shouts. That, Collier knows, won’t help. So Collier makes the kid shoot him. He gets him in a headlock, forces the revolver into his hand, and, as Norman squirms and cries out in horror, raises his arm and pulls the trigger. You can watch the scene here.

Is this one of the more immoral acts we’ve seen an American hero perform in a Hollywood movie? Not just killing an unarmed man but forcing an innocent to do it? Yet it’s completely logical. It’s in the line when Collier first smothers Norman in an almost paternal headlock: “You here to get me killed? I need you to perform.”

If there are moral qualms in the above scene, an indication of a “psychically toxic kind of warfare,” as Ayer himself has said, they only deepen in the scene in the German apartment.

If you don’t take her into that bedroom, I will
You hear April 1945 and you think, “Well, war’s almost over. That’s nice.” But Hitler called for all-out war; he had women and children fighting in the end. The Germans who don’t fight? The S.S. strings them up with notes of warning around their necks. The great reveal in “Full Metal Jacket”—kids as soldiers—is a mere aside here.

In one town square, during mop-up, Collier sees a woman look out from her third-floor window and takes Norman to check it out. Or check her out? He suspects she’s hiding someone, as she is, but it’s another, younger relative. A girl Norman’s age. So they stay. What does Collier have in mind, initially? He asks the woman, Irma (Anamaria Marinca of “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”), for hot water. The girl, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), is young and pretty and wears a summer dress—it’s as if they didn’t know enemy soldiers were coming—and it makes you wonder, as Ayer surely wants us to wonder: Is Brad Pitt going to rape that girl? Another thought: Does Norman alter the trajectory of events by sitting down at the piano and playing classical music? Emma walks over to him, smiles, sings along. She’s got a nice voice. Things are nice for a second. Then Collier tells Norman to take the girl into the bedroom before he does.

Is Norman (not to mention Collier) saved by having the girl take Norman’s hand rather than vice-versa? Or does that make it worse somehow? Meanwhile, Collier uses the hot water to wash up and shave, to become presentable again, and he gives the woman eggs to cook. What’s his gameplan? Does he have one? Does he just want to feel human for a few minutes? Sit down at the table to eggs and polite conversation with pretty women? Does he gravitate toward Norman not only to teach him to be savage but to be near his humanity? Is he trying to recover his own that way?

Whatever Collier is trying to build in the German apartment crumbles when the rest of his men burst in, loud and loutish. Where there was a gentleness in Norman’s interest in Emma, there is none from the others. Where Norman played classical music on the piano, “Coon Ass” plops his arms and ass on the keys. Collier doesn’t like it, Norman doesn’t like it, we don’t like it. It feels like a betrayal—like these men burst in and smashed something carefully and delicately built up. But the real betrayal, you can argue, is the thing carefully and delicately built up. You see it in the eyes of the men around the table, particularly from Boyd. That Collier would do this without them. That he would leave them behind? You see Collier attempting to be both head of the table and tank commander, and the two don’t mesh. The father at the head of the table isn’t made for war. That’s another guy.

Question: Is this scene so good that the rest of the movie feels ... anticlimactic? Simplistic?

As soon as they leave the apartment building, for example, the town gets shelled (by us?), and when the men look up the building they just left is rubble. Collier has to pull Norman away from Emma’s corpse. That felt unnecessary. On the plus side, it underlines Collier’s comment to Irma when the two kids went into the bedroom: “They’re young; and they’re alive.”

Wasn’t nothing
Four U.S. tanks continue on, but they quickly encounter a German Tiger tank, which was apparently superior to the ones we produced, and at the end of the battle, again, only our men are alive. Are they doomed to be alone? As they were at the beginning of the movie? Can no one keep up? Then they run over a mine and the tank loses its tracks. And over the hill come 300 Germans: S.S., fighting to the bitter end.

That bugged me when I first saw the trailer to “Fury.” How do you make American troops in Germany in April 1945 the underdogs? Well, you do this. You make it five against 300.

Why do they stay with their tank? Collier says he’s going to stay to fight, and Norman, not knowing any better, is the first to join him. So the others do, too. But they must know it’s a suicide mission. Collier must know. Why does he do it? Is it the Capt. Kirk/ Enterprise thing? He can’t leave his ship? Is it stubbornness? Pride? Did the scene in the German apartment make him realize that he wasn’t fit for civilization anymore, so why not end it here?

In the end, only Norman is alive. He’s called a hero but he knows he’s not. He knows he didn’t do what Collier told him to do (play dead; don’t surrender); he knows he’s only alive because he receives from one German soldier what the German soldier in the woods didn’t receive from us: mercy. But Ayer lets the word hang there in the air. Hero. It recalls the last line of “Band of Brothers.” But the word is complicated by everything we’ve already seen.

“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” Collier tells Norman at one point. Supposedly it was an ad-lib by Brad Pitt. To be honest, I didn’t like the line. I thought it was too obvious. I liked an earlier line of Collier’s, after Norman kills some Germans:  “Wasn’t nothing, right?” Good use of the double negative.

“Fury” is a gut shot. You almost wonder if we would have fewer wars if every war movie looked like “Fury.” 

Posted at 06:35 AM on Nov 03, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday October 27, 2014

Movie Review: Deux jours, une nuit (2014)


Watching “Deux jours, une nuit,” the new film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“Le gamin au velo”), I kept flashing back to my days canvassing for Greenpeace. Also Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.”

Part of the problem with “Munich,” remember, was the counting game. Five Mossad agents are going after the 11 terrorists who killed Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics, and the first kill takes a while. So does the second. You think, “There are nine more of these?” There aren’t, not that way, but the anticipation of the count, how much more we have to go, weighs on you as you watch.

In “Deux jours,” Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a working girl recently suffering from depression. But she is back “en forme” as she says on the phone to a friend, only to learn that in her absence the boss decided he didn’t need all 17 workers, only 16, and so, apparently unable to fire her outright, offered his employees a Faustian bargain: Sandra could keep her job but they would all lose a €1,000 bonus. Their call. Fourteen of the 16 opt for the dough. But her friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), claims the foreman unfairly influenced the election, and works to get another vote Monday morning. This gives Sandra the weekend to visit and talk with her coworkers; to get them on her side; to get them to give up €1,000 for her.

That’s the canvassing-for-Greenpeace thing: going door-to-door and asking for money.

It’s also the counting game: She has 14 people to visit—no, 13, she just won somebody on the phone—and you think, a la “Munich,” surely we won’t get each of these.

We do. But you know what’s interesting? It’s interesting.

Canvassing for Greenpeace
It helps that it’s Marion Cotillard doing the asking. The Dardennes try to make her look average, but ... Well, bon effort. Deux jours, une nuitI think their efforts backfire, to be honest. I think Cotillard looks better without much makeup, with less covering her face. At one point, Sandra is crying, telling her husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), how she feels invisible, and he’s consoling her with the words husbands usually use, but all I could think was: “Plus you’re one of the most beautiful women in the world. So you’ve got that going for you.”

Cotillard acts the movie slightly hunched, as if Sandra is trying to hide from the world, which she is. She’s a fragile woman, with two kids, fighting for a blue-collar job, but she just wants to go to her room and go to sleep. Maybe forever? Plus she’s just too nice. She almost makes the case against herself during the visits: €1,000, c’mon, everyone needs that. And nothing comes of the first two.

If she doesn’t convince the third, either, it’s only because he’s already decided. His name is Timur (first-time actor Timur Magomedgadzhiev), and he’s on the futbol field, coaching, when she visits late Saturday morning and asks if he’ll vote with her. He stares at her intensely. “Of course I will,” he says. Then he breaks down crying. He remembers how she helped him out in the past. He’s felt so guilty since the day before. “I’m really glad you’re here,” he says. It’s a welcome moment—for her and for us. It’s such a release, I began to laugh. She’s now got four with nine to go.

That’s also why it’s interesting. It’s scorekeeping. It’s less, “God, we’ve still got five more to go,” and more, “Oh no, we’ve only got five more to go!”

Then there’s the variety of responses. Most are like her—seeing both sides—and some fall this way and some that. A few are vehemently for her, while a few think she’s stealing from them. One gets violent.

It’s this aspect, the variety of responses, that really reminded me of canvassing for Greenpeace. You never knew what was behind that door. Most were blasé. A few were totally glad to see you. Then there were the angry people. They made you feel like you didn’t want to go on.

Sandra feels this way most of the time. She’s the exact wrong person to be doing this: an introvert getting over depression. But off she goes. And her pitch improves. A bit. It’s not like she begins as herself, fumbling and hemming and hawing, and winds up like William Jennings Bryan; she just gets a little better.

“Little” is the optimum word here. “Deux jours, une nuit” is all small, straightforward moments. It’s this small window into these small lives. Even the big moment—the attempted suicide—happens so straightforwardly, with so little drama, that when it’s happening you hardly realize it, and when it’s revealed to others it’s not without humor.

Turning up the volume
In the end, Sandra doesn’t win. She gets eight of the 16, and that’s not a majority, so there goes her job. But the boss is impressed that she did as well as she did, so he offers her a Faustian bargain: In a few months, he’ll let go one of the contractors—a man who just voted with her—and she’ll get his job. Sandra turns him down. Because in a way she’s already won. Just the struggle to visit everyone, to do this thing, is a victory for her. “We put up a good fight,” she tells her husband on the phone. “I’m happy.” It’s a nice ending. I’m a fan of win-by-losing movies (ex.: “Casablanca”), and this is that.

Two additional things.

One—and not to be a drag—but every job is a kind of Faustian bargain. It’s competition: you vs. every other applicant for the position. That’s why people like Sandra, the empathetic ones, tend to get ground up. They don’t have the stomach for it.

The second thing is a little embarrassing. Because it’s gushy. About You-Know-Who.

There’s a moment in the movie where I felt like I fell in love all over again. Sandra and her husband are driving to visit another coworker. She’s tired, worn down, and on the radio the French version of “Needles and Pins” comes on, which Manu mutes slightly. Because? She thinks he’s worried too much about her state of mind, that he’s trying to protect her from the sad songs of the world, and she objects. And in defiance she turns up the volume. Then she smiles.

It’s not a pretty smile, necessarily. It’s not a smile to grace the cover of a magazine. But there’s a world in it. It’s self-amused. It says this: My bold defiance is silly, I know, but I’m still glad, maybe even slightly proud, that I did it. There’s such humanity there. You can see it here, in this trailer, at 58 seconds in. Just remember: I saw her first. 

Posted at 07:09 AM on Oct 27, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday October 20, 2014

Movie Review: Kill the Messenger (2014)


Why is it flat? Why doesn’t it quite work?

“Kill the Messenger” was directed by Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.”), and written by Peter Landesman (the underrated “Parkland”), and it tells the true story of Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a good investigative reporter for a small newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, who stumbles upon a huge international story: that during the 1980s, in the middle of the “Just Say No” decade, the CIA ...

OK, what was the accusation again? Maybe that’s part of the problem. Even after seeing the movie, it’s still a bit murky.

Let me try. So while the Reagan administration was trading arms for hostages in order to illegally fund the Nicaraguan Contras, the CIA ... turned a blind eye toward Latin American drug suppliers who were funding the Contras? Abetted Latin American drug suppliers who were funding the Contras? Funneled cocaine into the U.S. in order to fund the Contras? I was never quite sure the extent of CIA involvement.

But at the least, blind eyes were involved. Vast hypocrisy was involved.

Too true to tell
The movie starts out not bad. Webb is doing a piece on drug forfeiture law—how property can be confiscated by the government without anyone being charged with a crime—when he gets a call from Coral Baca (an impossibly hot Paz Vega), whose boyfriend, Rafael Cornejo, is being prosecuted on drug charges. Kill the MessengerHer charge? “He sold drugs for the government.” She shows Webb a redacted court transcript and points him to Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez), a former drug supplier/Contra supporter, now DEA informant. But when Webb mentions Blandon to federal prosecutor Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), the charges against Cornejo are quickly dropped—as Baca knew they would be. Webb has been used. But now he senses a bigger story in Blandon.

He follows him to the trial of L.A. crack kingpin Ricky Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams, doomed to play such roles), and convinces Ross’ attorney, Alan Fenster (Tim Blake Nelson), to delve into Blandon’s background during cross-examination. On the stand, Blandon admits that the U.S. government, or at least the CIA, was aware that he smuggled tons of cocaine into the country. This testimony leads Webb to drug kingpin Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia) in prison in Nicaragua, who points him to Swiss banker Hansjorg Baier (Brett Rice), also in Nicaragua. Then Webb goes to D.C.

There, he gets the usual warnings away from the story from low-level bureaucrats and shadowy agents. The best exchange is probably this:

CIA official: We’d never threaten your children, Mr. Webb.
Webb [stunned pause]: What did you say?

That’s nice: the denial of the threat serving as the threat. But the big line of the movie comes from government official Fred Weil (Michael Sheen), who tells him the story won’t get out, adding, “Some stories are just too true to tell.”

So what happens? Webb returns to California, writes his story anyway, and it goes national. He’s slapped on the back by his contemporaries. Then his life falls apart.

All the Insider’s Men
A quarter of the way through the movie, I thought, “This would be so much better if it had been directed by Michael Mann.” Three quarters of the way through, I thought, “Oh, it was. It was just called ‘The Insider.’

In “The Insider,” “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), helps draw out a corporate vice-president, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), to go on the record about a Big Tobacco scandal. But then CBS Corporate gets cold feet, Wigand is besmirched, and the news story becomes petty shit about Wigand. Bergman has to betray friends and associates in order to not betray Wigand. The two men win a battle that is everywhere else being lost.

In “Kill the Messenger,” Webb is both Bergman and Wigand, reporter and besmirched. He becomes the story. Because the L.A. Times is jealous it got scooped? Because the Washington Post, the newspaper of Woodward and Bernstein, is too close to the CIA? Both accusations are implied here. Webb’s editor gets cold feet. Corporate is called in. Lawyers are called in—to protect the paper, not Webb. He’s shuttled off to a smaller newspaper. Does his wife leave him? Does he leave her? All of this is murky, too.

What isn’t murky enough is our faith in Webb. The Mercury News doublechecks the story after the accusations, and Meneses denies he spoke to Webb while Baier can’t be found. But we saw Webb talking to Meneses, and we see Baier being kidnapped, so we know everyone else is wrong. Maybe if we’d been kept in the dark, too, or a little, it might’ve made the movie more interesting. We would’ve had something to wonder. Instead, Webb comes off as blandly forthright and heroic. He drinks a bit, smokes a little pot, had an affair in the past. But he’s a decent husband, a decent father. To be honest, it’s not a great performance by Jeremy Renner. It’s one of the few times I’ve found him dull.

I did like his reaction after the story was first printed. He didn’t act triumphant; he almost acted guilty. Because his family had been threatened if he ran with the story, and he ran with it anyway? As if his family didn’t matter? Not sure. But it added a touch of mystery to what was generally obvious.

Or familiar. I kept getting flashes of not only “The Insider” but “All the President’s Men.” Maybe this was inevitable. Or maybe the filmmakers were too enamored of these movies to properly make their own. But the courtroom scene with the CIA revelation from Blandon, with Webb the only reporter present? That’s like the courtroom scene with the CIA revelation from McCord, with Woodward the only reporter present. Or when Webb feels like he’s being followed into the parking garage? Compare with Woodward’s paranoia after the parking garage, or the nighttime golf-range scene in “The Insider.” Here it’s: “We got a call from corporate this morning.” There it’s: “Corporate has some questions.”

Who wins?
Too bad. Its subjects are worth contemplating: the War on Drugs; the national-security state; the back-biting, sensationalistic nature of the national media, which seems to hinder more than it helps. Early in the movie, Webb is asked for the secret to his reporting, and he responds, “I don’t know ... Don’t let the assholes win?” Here, they win. And they haven’t really stopped winning.

At least “Kill the Messenger,” set almost 20 years ago, about crimes almost 30 years old, opened my eyes to a contemporary danger: the NSA spy program. All along, I’ve basically given the scandal a post-9/11 shrug: “You’re one in 300 million. There’s safety in numbers. They won’t focus on you unless you need to be focused on.” Or—the movie made me realize—unless you’re Joe Wilson. Or Jeffrey Wigand. Or Woodward and Bernstein. Or Gary Webb. 

Posted at 05:51 AM on Oct 20, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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