Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Special Correspondents (with spoilers)


On 29th April “Special Correspondents” launched as a Netflix original film. The question that pre-supposes all of Ricky Gervais’s work  “Is the King of controversy going to shock and appall?” was answered. 

No.

I think the notion of "controversial" is built into reactions to Ricky Gervais's stand up rather than his other writing. I've seen that applied to many stand up comedians, who also don't deserve the label, but Gervais has reached a level of fame whereby nuance is sacrificed for expectation and this is a double edged sword. 

Taking a thought for a walk along the cliffside of public opinion, is a risky business especially these days.  

We live in an age of celebrity. Social media is dominated by fans and fan culture. Mainstream media makes sacred cows and sacrificial lambs, and if a comedian highlights the "wrong" issue or the "wrong" sacred cow, retribution is swift and long lasting. 

Offence is no longer subjective, it's the rule applied to creativity, without exception and often without direct experience of the subject matter being dissected.

Gervais has said the real appeal of Launching the film on Netflix was that they allowed him to make his film his way. Which is good because the film that greeted fans and critics alike, is an intelligent, witty comedy, imbued with delightful characters and framed within an entirely plausible premise, that tells us, news can be faked and the public is none the wiser.

Based on the original French film of the same name from 2009, Gervais's film sees Ian Finch (Gervais) and Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) posting reports of a civil war in Ecuador, from the comfort and safety of an apartment over a Spanish restaurant in the heart of New York.

With the circumstances established, the film expands to address the additional aspects of an unfolding news story and the decisions of those left behind. The actions of Finch’s duplicitous wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga); the struggling radio station, whose editor (the brilliant Kevin Pollak) is delighted to be moving up in the ratings despite the fact that two of his staff are missing and the willingness of the viewing public to find and champion heroes.

As Ian Finch, Gervais plays against type.

David Brent was the eternal optimist of his own inappropriate ambition, utterly kind but confusing popularity with respect.
Andy Milllman, was a cynical extra turned "C lister" who was eventually burnt out by the realisation of a dream, which proved hollow.
“Derek” was a vulnerable care worker who only wanted the best for those he loved.
In his award show-host persona, Gervais is the brash observer who roasts the celebrities for the amusement of himself and the viewing audience.

Ian Finch is a gentle and nerdy sound engineer who struggles with the snowballing lie as it seizes the nation’s hearts, generates cash donations and reveals the true nature of all the main players. He is in awe of and a little frightened by Frank Bonneville, the sophisticated journalist he techs for.

Frank Bonneville is an excellent and surprising comic turn from Eric Bana and he and Gervais have a great and natural chemistry, generating many of the belly laughs of the film's 90 minutes. A situational "brom com", which pitches Bonneville's world weary, cynical ambition, against Finch's hero worship and open hearted kindness.

Brigida (America Ferrera)  and Domingo (Raul Castillo) are a delightful double act as the owners of the spanish restaurant where Finch and Bonneville broadcast their faked reports.  They too, generate huge laughs of affection.

Vera Farmiga shows that she is a gifted comic actor as the repellent Eleanor, turning the situation of her husband's kidnapping, into an opportunity to realise her frustrated ambitions and Gervais once again gives the soul of the piece to a woman,  Claire Maddox (Kelly Macdonald). A fellow journalist who quietly loves Finch for who he is, and tries to make sense of the aspects of her profession, which in these days of rolling news, can make monsters of us all.

“Special Correspondents” is a delightful film.

It harks back to the halcyon days of comedies of intelligence, that I thought were gone. The film that it reminded me of most was "The Apartment" with the language and nuance, character and situation leading the narrative and trusting the audience. The era of films, which we can watch again and again; due to the alchemy of believable characters, engaging plots, witty dialogue, physical comedy and a superb ensemble cast.

Compared to the ubiquitous gross out, female flesh fest, formulaic and victim targeting films that pass for funny these days, it is a breath of fresh air through the oxygen mask of great writing.

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