Monday, April 25, 2016

Talking Tribeca: Special Correspondents

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which took place April 13th-24th.

Special Correspondents
Directed by Ricky Gervais
Festival Screenings

Journalism can be one of the bravest professions. Getting the story, and more importantly exposing the truth to a wide audience, can require entering dangerous territory and putting one’s life at serious risk. That isn’t usually the premise for a comedy, but apparently it can be. In “Special Correspondents,” a cocky radio reporter and his eager sound engineer are sent to Ecuador to cover a worsening political situation, but their plans change when their tickets and passports are lost, leading them to shack up across the street from the radio station and do their best to pretend that they are actually reporting live from a war zone.

As odd couples tend to be, our two protagonists couldn’t be any more different. Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) walks around like James Bond, posing as a detective to get a major scoop and acting like a rock star despite really being a radio host. Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais) is a kindhearted technician whose wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) hates him, and he is often prone to unintelligent decisions and choices. When Frank decides to bring Ian along to Ecuador, he can’t regret his choice quickly enough, as Ian’s bumbling results in a preposterous plan to make up news and make it seem like it is the real thing.

Predictably, this film hinges on a considerable amount of suspension of disbelief, compounded by the fact that Frank and Ian decide that a hideout directly across the street from the radio station, which means that they can see the reaction to their false reports, was the smartest plan. As a grander statement on society and the digestion of news, however, this film has plenty of mildly intellectual things to say. Its most memorable instance of parody is when Frank decides to make up a source so that he will have some credibility and other news outlets immediately report that they too have been in touch with this totally false person.

Australian actor Eric Bana hasn’t always found the right roles in American films, and this part is a pretty good fit for him, allowing him to have a great time being a cocky jerk who unintentionally starts to turn into a nice guy as the film goes on. Gervais has, as usual, cast himself as a good-natured, idealistic man who gets walked all over by most people, one of his two typical archetypes. This isn’t Gervais’ first time behind the camera or as the author of a script, and unlike his racy Golden Globes routine, this moderately R-rated (or TV-MA, since this is a Netflix original film premiering on the streaming service this Friday) movie contains some swearing but still feels a bit simplistic and censored, which is a shame given its potential for raunchiness. It’s a fine parody that does contain some funny moments, but there’s nothing extremely memorable about it.


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