Posts Tagged ‘Barry Pepper’

The Veracity of the Story

Kill the Messenger

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Director: Michael Cuesta

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Patric, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Gil Bellows, Dan Futterman

Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker and The Town, Jeremy Renner plays the real life investigative journalist Gary Webb, who while working for the San Jose Mercury News uncovers a complex story involving the CIA, crack cocaine, money laundering and the funding of the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels to topple the Sandinista lead government in a dirty war in the Central American nation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua.

Gary Webb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb expertly played by Renner was best known for his Dark Alliance series of articles which gained international media attention before the days of Wikileaks, which uncovered the origins of crack cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles and allegedly traces its roots and funding back to the CIA which was using the profits of the drug sales to fund the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua in the mid 1980’s to the 1990’s.

Whilst the crux of director Michael Cuesta’s film Kill The Messenger is about media ethics it also delves deeper into the murky world of career and character assignation when the established media houses included The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post claimed that Webb’s explosive articles could not be substantiated by credible sources as most of those were shady drug runners, secretive government operatives and vanishing Swiss bankers in Panama City.

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The revelations sparked outrage in many of the African American communities of America’s major cities especially Los Angeles. The drug ring helped escalate a crack cocaine epidemic on the streets of many of these cities and more shockingly the profits were being used by the CIA and also paved the way for the Colombian drug cartels to enter the American market.

Webb’s Dark Alliance series focused on the links between three men, Danilo Blandon; Ricky Ross played by Michael Kenneth Williams and a more elusive Norwin Menezes played by Andy Garcia.

What Kill the Messenger shows is that in the days before instant online information leaks which have characterised the 21st century that the American Intelligence community did anything to discredit the author of the story and in this case Webb’s own career and life suffers tremendously when he directly names the CIA in a complex tale of money-laundering, drug running and political interference.

Webb soon resigns from the San Jose Mercury News and takes up a less prolific post in Cupertino, California, while his relationship with his wife and children suffer immensely, as witnessed by his wife Sue played by Rosemarie DeWitt as Sue wife and teenage son Eric played by Matthew Lintz both whom can see that Webb has become a victim of a calculated smear campaign to basically discredit him as an investigative journalist.

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Throughout the entire disownment of the story by established media houses including an internal investigation into the veracity of the sources by Webb’s own newspaper San Jose Mercury News, Webb is convinced that his Dark Alliance series has truth and merit, which besides any investigative flaws did manage to inflame the African American community to demand answers from the Director of the CIA as to the unrelenting flood of crack cocaine in their neighbourhoods.

There is a fundamental shift in Kill the Messenger, which director Cuesta handles intelligently in that the film ceases to be about the story that Webb has uncovered but more about Webb as a person with all his character defects. There is a line in the film which sums this up – “If you put a man under a microscope then all his life’s flaws and discrepancies will come to light”

Renner acts the part of Gary Webb intensely and passionately as he soon realizes that he has become the story and not what his story was about, something not too dissimilar to what has happened to contemporary whistle blowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Kill the Messenger is a fascinating portrait of an investigative journalist who uncovers an international web of corruption, lies and money laundering only to find himself the victim of his own story. Unfortunately the veracity of the story takes its toll on the storyteller.

Cuesta’s film whilst filled with a sprinkling of character actors including a fabulous cameo by Mexican actress Paz Vega and loads of directorial embellishments is not a perfect film, but certainly a provocative story which at least vindicates Gary Webb’s own personal battle to get the truth out there, despite the costs. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Fifth Estate, All the Presidents Men and The Paperboy.

 

 

Masking the Silver Trail

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The Lone Ranger

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, William Fichtner

Hi Ho Silver the Lone Ranger is back! But who can take Armie Hammer seriously after appearing as the hapless Prince in Mirror Mirror? The only time he was brilliant was playing the identical blue blood Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s superb Oscar winning film The Social Network.

In Disney’s wisdom they have cast Armie Hammer alongside Johnny Depp in a Jerry Bruckheimer produced Gore Verbinski film, the much anticipated The Lone Ranger. Of course Depp channeling his more successful screen character of Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, is less convincing as Tonto, the lone Cormanche Red Indian who betrays his tribe for the lure of silver.

Unlike the brilliant Coen brothers rendition of True Grit or director James Mangold fierce Western 3:10 to Yuma, The Lone Ranger feels too much like a ride at a Disney theme park, whether it be in Orlando or Anaheim. Fortunately for The Lone Ranger, director Gore Verbinski saves the film from being a complete farce with a striking balance of visuals, great cinematography evoking the mythic Wild West and a bizarre mixture of cowboy brutality and dazzling action sequences mostly to do with the Transcontinental Railway expansion towards California.

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Hammer plays Texas Ranger, John Reid, aka The Lone Ranger who arrives in a spectacular fashion in the town of Colby, Texas in 1869 at the height of the American-Indian wars over land, expansion and minerals. The unwitting Reid soon teams up with the resourcefully quirky Tonto and in a particularly bizarre sequence discover his pristine white horse aptly named Silver in a desert plateau. The unlikely duo go on a quest to stop the vicious outlaw Butch Cavendish, played with particular relish by William Fichtner, from the hit series Prison Break and the expansionist railway magnate Cole played by British actor Tom Wilkinson who both plan to mine the silver trial.

Dodging scorpions, arrows, the relentless great desert, reckless trains, the Lone Ranger and Tonto soon find themselves embroiled in a plot by the chairman of the Transcontinental Railway Company to enrich himself through the transportation of discovered silver across the Wild West to San Francisco. Historically placing The Lone Ranger, in the height of the late 19th century industrial revolution, the film veers between comic farce and historical diatribe about the destruction of the indigenous Indian tribes of the Wild West by the evil expansionist Americans at the prospect of mineral wealth and deadly industrial progress.

Whilst the slaughtering of the Comanche at the hands of the better equipped American Cavalry, is vividly contextualized in the broader vision of civilizing the Wild Wild West of the latter 19th century, it does little to elevate the plot out of comic action. The Lone Ranger is unevenly told, with the second half of the film far outweighing the sketchy narrative of the first, and at over two and a half hours long, this feature could have done with some seriously crisp editing.

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There is a great supporting cast to help prop up the unlikely onscreen paring of Hammer and Depp, with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Red Harrington, Barry Pepper as the confused Cavalry officer Fuller along with blockbuster newcomer James Badge Dale as Dan Reid and British actress Ruth Wilson (last seen as Princess Betsy in Anna Karenina) playing his ill-destined wife Rebecca.

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The Lone Ranger is fun entertainment and purely fictionalized Western with lots of scraggly Cowboys and noble Indians fighting it out amidst the gorgeous scenery of the great untamed plains of Texas, Utah and Nevada.  The downside is that the comic element does not quite sustain itself in the midst of director Verbinski and the trio of screenwriters attempting a more historically correct statement of how the White Man’s progress across America was through the destruction of the continent’s indigenous Indian tribes. Recommended for a fun Western romp, but The Lone Ranger should stick to being a superficial action comedy about Cowboys and Indians without the political relevance thrown in and is definitely not in the same blockbuster category as The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Revenge is a Snake Pit

True Grit

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Joel and Ethan’s Coen rendition of True Grit is a classic Western with the cowboys unshaven, filled with whiskey swigging gun-slinging characters who all appeared to have been beaten by the harsh environment of Arkansas in the 1870s frontier towns.

True Grit is a revenge tale with pitfalls both figurative and literal and as the old Chinese saying goes, when seeking revenge, it’s always best to dig two graves. At the centre of this Western, is Mattee Ross a determined 14 year old girl who is beset on avenging the death of her father.

Hailee Steinfeld delivers a superb performance, rightfully getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Ross hires Rooster Cogburn, an unsavory US Marshal who drinks too much whiskey and is not very fond of personal hygiene. Cogburn in his rough and scraggly demeanor is brilliantly portrayed by Jeff Bridges. A third character who makes up the unlikely trio of adventurers is La Boeuf, a dandified Texas Ranger, played with panache and egotism by Matt Damon, who quite frankly looks like a fellow who takes pride in his appearance.
This darkly comic journey reminiscent of the Coen brothers earlier film Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is more richly textured with symbolism and myth, complimented by beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins. With the occasional spats of violence which as always in Coen Brothers films are swift, untimely and always shocking are tapered down in comparison to their Oscar winning masterpiece No Country for Old Men, which was drenched in the suspense of inevitable violence and pervading menace.

A Gritty Game of Rancher and Outlaw

As Westerns goes, this is not 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold 2007 action packed gun tottering film featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the cattle rancher and captured outlaw, but True Grit is closer to a period piece, shot in sepia colours complimented with stark black costumes and musing more on the legends of the Old West as opposed to the violence that characterized the era.

True Grit is more a homage to the film genre, a respectful and beautifully directed representation of a mythical error of the Wild Frontier, where the only real law of the land was each individual’s right to seek revenge where injustice had occurred, whatever the consequences. Nominated for 10 Oscars, unfortunately True Grit was beaten at the Academy Awards by the more technically brilliant film, Inception and the popular David Fincher film, The Social Network. In the acting stakes, Hailee Steinfeld is definitely a rising star, since receiving an Oscar nomination at age 15, a testament to her talent. Of all the Oscars True Grit should have won, it should have been for cinematography which was flawless.

Besides the accolades not heaped on the latest Coen Brothers film by this past Awards season, True Grit is nevertheless a terrific film about revenge, mortality and the myth of the Wild West. Watch out for a great cameo by Barry Pepper, all disheveled and wearing sheepskin chaps as the outlaw leader Lucky Ned Pepper.

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