UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence and some Sexuality

Directed by: Patrick Tatopoulos

Written by: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman & Howard McCain

Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux, David Aston, Elizabeth Hawthorne & Craig Parker

Most horror franchises don’t receive prequels that take place in the Dark Ages, but UNDERWORLD has a most-welcome exception in its cinematic timeline. The third film in this “vampires vs. werewolves” franchise and the first in the chronological order of events, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS offers a surprisingly huge amount of entertainment. This film plays out like GAME OF THRONES crossed with werewolves/vampires. It’s a ton of fun and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a great installment in a franchise that’s a bit all over the place in quality.

In the Dark Ages, vampires, werewolves, and human live in violent ways. The vampires have humans pay tribute to them, while also fighting against the vicious Lycans (werewolves). When vampire warlord Viktor (Bill Nighy) finds a werewolf infant who’s capable of taking human form, he decides to let the child live as a loyal servant. As the years go by, loyal Lycanthrope Lucian (Michael Sheen) gets the hots for Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and the two engage in a forbidden relationship. As werewolves beat at the castle doors and tensions rise between Lucian and Viktor, events spiral out of control to the point where we see a centuries-long vampire-lycan war begin in its gory glory.

First things first, RISE OF THE LYCANS’s production values are stellar (almost) all across the board. With the exception of some brief corny CGI in the werewolf transformations and blue filters that are used to a comically excessive degree, this film looks like it cost far more than its meager 35 million price tag would indicate. Lots of authentic looking armor, costumes, and sets were used to bring this medieval world of violent blood-suckers and hairy shapeshifters to life. Judged on a spectacle alone, RISE OF THE LYCANS is awesome.

The cool factor extends into action sequences that have a steady (non-shaky cam) eye on the combat, though there are occasional bits of annoying quick editing. The fights also have believable emotion thrown into them. Besides featuring the Lycans fight for freedom, this is also Lucian’s romance with Viktor’s daughter. Therefore, we have great scenes of a werewolf fighting for the love of his life and the vampire father being protective of his daughter (with a sword). There is plenty of gore to go around, as we see vampires get slashed and werewolves dismembered. One of the film’s best scenes has an escape through the castle hallways, all while giant metal spear-like arrows crash through the walls. That entire sequence is just plain cool to behold.

It helps that this material (which seems tailor-made for a glorified B-movie) is being brought to the screen by a talented trio of performers. The three big stand-outs are Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Rhona Mitra. Michael Sheen has severely ranged in the quality of his acting. Sometimes, he’s great (UNTHINKABLE) and other times he’s terrible (the TWILIGHT series). LYCANS sees him playing the heroic leader of werewolves and a man driven by forbidden love (as cliché as that motivation may be). Sheen is basically playing werewolf Spartacus and that’s pretty awesome, because he’s putting in A-grade effort into his performance.

As the story’s blood-sucking baddie, Bill Nighy is great as the scenery-chewing, permanently scowling Viktor. He displays a sympathetic side to Lucian as an owner would to be a pet and has genuine fatherly concerns for his daughter. When he receives some emotional moments during the latter half, his angry responses feel genuine and his sadness is palpable. One quiet scene that sees him silently grieving in a corner is more than believable and offers a deeper layer to this undead antagonist. Meanwhile, Rhona Mitra plays her heroine as a sword-wielding bad-ass and a determined woman who’s not held back by the constraints of vampire society norms. I can’t believe I’m saying all of these things about an UNDERWORLD prequel, but these performances work and then some.

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is far better than it has any right to be. The acting is stellar from the three main leads and adds a more emotional layer to the proceedings (which also strengthens the later chronological films). Though some of the werewolf transformations may look cheesy and the color blue is everywhere, this period piece horror-action flick is pretty damn great. The fights and battle scenes are exciting, while there’s A-level effort being thrown into this B-movie premise. UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is a fantastically fun time for fans of the franchise, while also serving as a solid introduction to the series for newcomers!

Grade: B+

UNDERWORLD (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence/Gore and some Language

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Written by: Danny McBride

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee & Kevin Grevioux

2003’s UNDERWORLD came out when I was just entering junior high school and this film was the talk of all my preteen friends, though we were far too young to go watch this in a theater. When it premiered on cable, I remember watching it and liking it. However, I haven’t seen this first film in over a decade. UNDERWORLD has the nifty premise of vampires fighting werewolves…in present day…with cool weapons. While it’s far from perfect, UNDERWORLD is an entertaining watch that has amazing visuals and lots of creativity (alongside many clichés).

For centuries, a war has raged between vampires and lycans (the fancy word for werewolves). Humans are unaware of these monsters’ existence and their feud, but this changes when medical student Michael (Scott Speedman) is thrust into the middle of the conflict. Supposedly dead lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen) wants Michael for some reason and vampire death-dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has taken an interest in the human. The monstrous factions begin to reach boiling points as new weapons come to light, alongside buried history and a master plan that may end the war. Selene soon finds herself saddled with deep feelings for Michael and discoveries that blur her long-standing loyalty.

When watching UNDERWORLD, it immediately becomes clear that creators Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux, and Len Wiseman put a lot of thought into crafting extensive lore behind the plot. The politics of vampire coven rituals are complicated, but the trio simplify things to the point where the viewer can easily grasp what’s going on. There’s also an avid history behind the vampire-lycan conflict itself, but this won’t come as a shocking twist to first-time viewers who’ve already seen origin story RISE OF THE LYCANS. UNDERWORLD was originally planned as a trilogy of films, which explains the eye-rollingly obvious cliffhanger ending that’s left wide open for a sequel.

Plot-wise, UNDERWORLD is a bloody, clichéd, and fun mixture of ROMEO & JULIET, BLADE, and THE MATRIX. Even with these obvious influences, the resulting film is its own cinematic beast (aided by lots of latex and blue filters). The pacing is mostly compelling, though the middle section occasionally drags for the sake of giving lengthy exposition behind the series’ fanged/furry mythology. These slower points are easily remedied by an action-packed final third that delivers a bad-ass creation that’s never been seen on film before.

Though the plot may contain more than its fair share of clichés and familiarity, UNDERWORLD is a visually stunning movie. Lots of slow motion, slick cinematography, and MATRIX-inspired (in a good way) action sequences make their way into the mix. This film doesn’t skimp on the gore either, because vamps and wolves go at each other’s throats with a variety of weapons. Sometimes, these are specialized bullets and hand-to-hand/claw-to-claw combat. Other times, these warring monsters use kick-ass weapons brought in for a specific scene (e.g. metal whips, bladed discs, etc.).

Kate Beckinsale slips into a sexy latex catsuit as vampire Selene, though she’s just as dangerous as she is attractive. This female bad-ass provides a solid protagonist for the audience to root for, especially as her preconceived notions about the war begin to shatter. I wish the same could be said for Scott Speedman as Selene’s human love-interest Michael. Speedman is wooden as the dude-in-distress and functions as a walking plot device. Even worse than Speedman’s blandness is Shane Brolly as scumbag vampire Kraven. He plays his character with all the subtleties of a moustache-twirling villain. Thankfully, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen make up for Speedman and Brolly’s bad acting, as the determined leaders of the warring monster factions.

Though UNDERWORLD suffers from overly familiar clichés, two lame characters, and an occasionally dull middle section, this film still delivers on being entertaining. If the idea of vampires and werewolves fighting (with guns, no less) intrigues you, you’re likely to have a good time watching UNDERWORLD. It’s far from high art, but very much succeeds at being a fun, visually stunning horror-actioner!

Grade: B

PASSENGERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexuality, Nudity and Action/Peril

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Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Written by: Jon Spaihts

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne & Andy Garcia

Maybe it was because of low expectations set by poor word of mouth and a so-so marketing campaign, but I didn’t have high hopes for PASSENGERS. Everything leading up to this film’s release made it seem like a generic execution of a cool premise. However, this sci-fi/romance/adventure is one of the most pleasant cinematic surprises I’ve had all year. Tackling an unconventional love story alongside a very tense “what would you do?” scenario, this film mixes fantastic spectacle (the production values are amazing) with tough moral dilemmas that might have different viewers seeing the film in entirely different ways. The way I see it, that’s not a bad thing at all.

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The Avalon is transporting 5,000 passengers and over 200 crew members to colonization planet Homestead II. The intergalactic journey takes 120 years, so those aboard the spaceship are put into over a century of hibernation and woken up in the voyage’s final four months. When a gigantic asteroid causes an unexpected power surge, two passengers wake up 90 years too early and find themselves unable to go back into hibernation. Faced with spending the rest of their lives aboard the Avalon, mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) begin to fall head over heels for each other and try to make the most of their depressing situation. However, circumstances become dire when malfunctions begin to occur all over the Avalon and the fate of thousands of lives soon rests on their shoulders.

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PASSENGERS will likely divide viewers based purely on a character’s decision that doubles as a grim moral dilemma. This has already been spoiled in certain reviews as it happens within the first 20 minutes of the story and massively contributes to the main set-up. This presents one of the protagonists as a deeply flawed human being and ponders some tough questions about human nature. However, the film doesn’t ignore this problematic plot development and frequently wrestles with the questionable ethics behind it. In all honesty, PASSENGERS might have been a deeper, more complex film if it had gone further with this moral dilemma…but it instead opts for a mostly straightforward space adventure/love story. Depending on how you feel about this plot detail (which I will not spoil) and the movie’s treatment of it will ultimately contribute to how much you enjoy or strongly dislike this film as a whole.

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Though the story only calls for a handful of performances, the big name actors carry this film entirely on their more-than-capable shoulders. Chris Pratt plays a complex protagonist and drives the story forward, capturing the tragic distress that one would rightfully feel at the universe’s cruel sense of humor in his misfortune. Jennifer Lawrence slightly phones it in during certain scenes, but once again proves why she’s one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses for a majority of the running time. On the sidelines, Michael Sheen delivers amusing comic relief as an overly polite android bartender and provides a shoulder for both characters to cry on. I won’t say much about Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia for fear of spoilers, but the former definitely leaves his mark on the plot.

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PASSENGERS excels in terms of effects and spectacle. Rest assured, this movie isn’t only about the special effects and thrives on a compelling story and quality performances. However, the many special effects and lavish sets all contribute to the proceedings. Some moments are comical, e.g. the ship’s technology not recognizing the sleep pod screw-up and treating the two passengers like they’re average customers. Other moments are beautiful, a floating romantic walk through the starry recesses of outer space is stunning. For a majority of the second half of the film, the effects make up the effectively exciting and peril-filled stakes. One of the most intense bits involves Jennifer Lawrence getting trapped in an anti-gravity swimming pool and facing the possibility of drowning in a way that’s never really been seen before on film.

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As entertaining, fun and thought-provoking as it is, PASSENGERS does encounter a few filmmaking malfunctions of its own. The romance angle is mostly well done and developed in a convincing way, but there are over-the-top sappy moments (e.g. the characters trying to kiss through their spacesuits and going through romantic-comedy tropes in space). A couple of plot holes also keep nagging at the back of my mind, one of which bothers me almost as much as the floating door at the end of TITANIC. The more I think about this single scene, the less sense it makes. This sloppy story development (late in the film) probably should have been excised altogether or rewritten in a different manner. Nevertheless, these problems don’t come close to overshadowing the film’s many positives.

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PASSENGERS is far from perfect and definitely could have been better with a few rewrites to cover up some plot holes. However, it treats a major moral dilemma in a serious fashion and delivers a complicated love story as a result. Ultimately, how you feel about the characters and the treatment of a certain plot detail will likely determine how you feel about this film as a whole. I wasn’t expecting to like this movie as much as I did, but it’s a mature (flawed) science fiction romantic-adventure that also functions as a story about what it means to be human (complete with our imperfections). PASSENGERS may go down as one of the most underrated films to come out of 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if a stronger appreciation for this film grows over time.

Grade: B+

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Menace, Graphic Nudity, and Language

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Directed by: Tom Ford

Written by: Tom Ford

(based on the novel TONY AND SUSAN by Austin Wright)

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Isla Fisher

On paper, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS sounds like a Hitchcockian psychological head-trip crossed with a pulpy crime thriller. While that description of the film is correct, things do stray into metaphorical and artsy territory more than initially expected. There’s nothing wrong with being an art film, just look at most of the output from Refn, Lynch, Cronenberg, and Von Trier. However, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS occasionally weaves dangerous close to becoming downright pretentious and also attempts to be a little too ambitious, consequently leaving one of its narratives far stronger than the other.

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Susan (Amy Adams) is an uppity art gallery owner who collects and displays bizarre pieces. These strange works of art include: nude morbidly obese dancers who guide us through the film’s opening credits, a cow with arrows sticking out of it that litters the background, and a so-so painting that obviously states one of this film’s main themes. When yet another nail is put in the coffin of her crumbling second marriage, Susan coincidentally receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Titled “Nocturnal Animals” (his nickname for her), Edward’s new novel tells a dark story of murder, madness and bloody revenge. As she becomes hooked on the emotionally damaging book, Susan finds herself remembering her failed relationship with Edward and begins to suspect that the novel might actually be a veiled threat.

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On a visual level, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS looks great. The cinematography is crisp and has a distinct attention-grabbing style. You might want to look away during certain scenes but will find yourself unable to do so, because the film displays its ugliness through the most beautiful lenses. If you want to be a stickler for details, this movie is technically composed of three narratives (though I read it as two). There’s Edward’s novel and then there’s Susan reading it whilst reminiscing (tying past and present scenes together). The tense revenge tale kept me completely engaged to the point where I forgot it was actually a book being read by the main character and this happened numerous times. Personally speaking, the failed relationship plot seemed far more scattershot and less impactful. I think many moviegoers are bound to latch onto one narrative over the other. Whichever one they prefer will likely hinge on the genre they gravitate towards the most.

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The scenes of Edward’s book feature Jake Gyllenhaal as protagonist Tony. Gyllenhaal does a brilliant job in the role (which was kind of expected from his previous work) and this character is made all the more fascinating when you tie him into Gyllenhaal’s performance as author Edward. There’s clearly a symbiotic connection between the real-life writer and his fictitious creation, with Gyllenhaal putting in two distinct performances. Amy Adams is believable as emotionally distressed, deeply depressed Susan. Her facial expressions and body language say far more than any ham-fisted dialogue that explicitly tells us how she’s feeling ever could. Michael Shannon delivers his best work in years as a grizzled vengeance-seeking detective in Edward’s novel. Meanwhile, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is positively terrifying as the psychotic villain of Edward’s book.

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The five main characters from four great performers aren’t where this movie’s acting talent stops though, because many big faces pop up in the sidelines. Armie Hammer doesn’t receive a whole lot to do, but still makes a strong impression as Susan’s disinterested second husband. Isla Fisher shows up as a character in Edward’s novel, resembling Amy Adams in a possible parallel of her. Michael Sheen has an all-too brief appearance as an interesting friend of Susan’s. Finally, Laura Linney shows up for one scene and becomes borderline over-the-top as a stereotypical rich aristocrat, though her small moment does feed into the story in a big way.

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS seems to have a lot on its mind, with certain themes being rather obvious and others bound to be discovered upon repeat viewings. It’s a metaphorical piece of cinematic art that follows the formula of a tragic drama about a failed relationship and the motions of a grisly crime thriller. However, the latter far outshines the former in this humble reviewer’s opinion. I was expecting the film to tie everything together in more ways than it actually did. This movie certainly keeps the viewer thinking about it long after the credits have rolled and fans of dark, depressing arthouse cinema are bound to find something to love here. Without getting into spoilers, I will also say that the film’s conclusion is unsatisfying in the best possible way. I really liked NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. I think it’s a fascinating piece of work in many respects, but the disconnected difference in quality between the narratives kept me from loving it as much as I wanted to.

Grade: B+

FINDING DORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse

Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Alexander Gould, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett & Stephen Root

Ever since Pixar was bought by Disney, the studio has produced more sequels and less original films. We’ve had a third TOY STORY installment (which was amazing), CARS 2 (their worst film thus far), MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (an okay-at-best prequel) and still face a growing horde of follow-ups on the horizon with TOY STORY 4, CARS 3, and THE INCREDIBLES 2. 2003’s FINDING NEMO seemed highly unlikely to receive a sequel and stood perfectly fine by itself as one of the Pixar’s finest films. Still, here we are. Thirteen years after NEMO’s original theatrical run, we have FINDING DORY, which is a surprisingly solid second installment.

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A year has passed since the events of FINDING NEMO. Clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are peacefully living in their sea anemone home, now with forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as their neighbor. Things have settled down for Marlin and Nemo, but that suddenly changes when Dory is struck by a resurgence of long-lost memories. It turns out that Dory has a family and lives somewhere in the California area. Desperate to be reunited with her formerly forgotten parents, Dory makes her way across the ocean with Marlin and Nemo in tow. However, her adventure becomes complicated when an aquarium “saves” Dory and the two clownfish are forced to go on an improvised rescue mission.

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Like most sequels in any genre, FINDING DORY doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of its predecessor. The plot follows a story that’s noticeably similar to the first film. When Dory is “rescued,” Marlin even exclaims “Not again!” as if to call attention to this. However, this sequel avoids simply repeating old plot points by introducing new characters, changing the setting and bringing a different set of stakes. One fantastic tweak in the story are emotional flashbacks to Dory’s childhood. Besides baby Dory being Pixar’s cutest creation ever, the blasts from this blue fish’s past lay out certain details in advance and give the audience a deep desire to see Dory happily reunited with her parents. These flashbacks don’t feel forced or heavily loaded with exposition either. They contain the right mixture of clever dialogue, heartwarming humor, and utter cuteness.

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FINDING DORY surprisingly doesn’t stumble into the typical sequel pitfall of trying to reincorporate too many characters from the original film. That film was chock full of unforgettable fishy friends and each served a distinct purpose in the movie’s storyline. DORY has a few returning faces (the singing Stingray, surfer turtle Crush, and a great after-credits cameo), but it mainly relies on a new handful of underwater characters that are just as entertaining to watch and contribute to the plot in their own special ways. Surprisingly, these come in voices from MODERN FAMILY and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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Ed O’Neill is perfectly cast as Hank, a grumpy red octopus with a heart of gold. Ty Burrell lends his unique vocals to beluga whale Bailey and provides one of the funniest story arcs, while Kaitlin Olson voices gentile whale shark Destiny. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy serve as Dory’s forgotten-but-now-remembered parents in the many flashbacks throughout. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba are hysterical as two territorial sea lions. Even though FINDING DORY only brings back the “Mine!” seagulls for a very brief moment, these sea lions officially made up for that and had me laughing every single time they were on the screen.

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My only complaint with FINDING DORY comes from its changed environment. While the first film was an adventure that spanned across half the ocean and packed in lots of excitement, a majority of this sequel takes place within a California aquarium. This smaller location offers new characters, new jokes, and a more contained set of emotional stakes, but definitely lessens the exciting adventure aspect of the story. FINDING DORY is a very different film than FINDING NEMO in this regard, yet still can’t help but feel like a slight downgrade due to the crazy amounts of danger that the fishy protagonists faced in the first film. The only hazards Dory, Marlin and Nemo come into contact with are aquarium procedures, disgruntled staff members, and one angry sea creature (which felt a tad lazy).

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This complaint is very small in the overall scheme of FINDING DORY. The animation is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar at this point, which is to say it looks amazing, colorful and vibrant. The writing is smart and engaging, even if the adventure aspect is lessened from the first film (which seemed like an insurmountable predecessor to begin with). The emotions are spot-on as Dory’s past is built upon through adorable, heart-warming/wrenching flashbacks. DORY’s non-linear storyline never once feels forced or dull either. FINDING DORY shows that Pixar can still crank out great films, even if those movies happen to be sequels (a feat that had only previously been seen in TOY STORY 2 and 3).

Grade: A-

KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Drug Content

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Directed by: Michael Cuesta

Written by: Peter Landesman

(based on the book KILL THE MESSENGER by Gary Webb & Nick Schou)

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Barry Pepper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Richard Schiff, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick & Michael K. Williams

There are plenty of reasons why KILL THE MESSENGER is a “good” movie. It addresses huge important issues and features a standout performance that ranks among Jeremy Renner’s best roles. Other talented faces pop in and out of the story as well. There are plenty of great moments as well. It’s a shame that bad pacing fumbles up the overall experience. For those interested in corruption, ignored history, and one of the earliest whistleblowers before Snowden, then MESSENGER is a worthwhile watch.

KILL THE MESSENGER, Jeremy Renner, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collect

In the mid-90’s, Gary Webb got an interesting tip that led him to publish a series of three articles known as “Dark Alliance.” Webb interviewed many drug dealers and criminals in order to unveil a conspiracy that led to a discovery of CIA officials who knew full well about cocaine being used to fund Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980’s. It was a crooked way of fueling a conflict that wasn’t getting full support from Congress. Obviously, Webb shedding light on a top-secret story wasn’t exactly what the CIA wanted. A massive smear campaign was launched against the man to discredit him rather than focus on genuine points in his articles. KILL THE MESSENGER is based on Webb’s entire ordeal with a conspiracy thriller vibe thrown into it for good measure.

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The two biggest reasons to see KILL THE MESSENGER are the true story behind the film and a knockout performance. If there’s anything this film gets completely right, it’s that I wanted to read up on the actual story about Gary Webb’s articles and get multiple points of view. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of this plot though. Sometimes, it feels as if certain angles were prettied up in order to automatically see Gary Webb as a perfect hero figure (despite his past sins). It’s a tad manipulative and offering a more complex/flawed view would have made for a more challenging/realistic movie. Jeremy Renner knocks it out of the park as Webb! The actor pours so much emotion into his role that it’s great to watch him pretty much carry a decent movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Webb’s editor), Oliver Platt (Webb’s boss), Robert Patrick and Andy Garcia (drug dealers), Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta (government agents) all deliver in their scenes, even if they only appear for a mere five minutes of screen time.

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The biggest killer of momentum in the film is the pacing. There are interesting scenes that totally work within the context of the movie, but also a couple of godawful stretches that border on tedious. There’s not a solid reason why this movie should run at nearly two hours. 20 minutes could have easily been snipped out for a tighter flick. Some of these include family dynamic clichés that failed to flesh out the story further or give any emotional weight to this movie version of Webb. Also, the insertion of clips (interviews with government officials or stock footage) as montages feels like a cheap technique of transitioning from scene to scene. It’s almost like a documentary approach was inserted into an otherwise traditional narrative and it’s as jarring a decision as it sounds.

KILL THE MESSENGER, Jeremy Renner, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collect

KILL THE MESSENGER did a good job of pissing me off and rightly so about at the upsetting true story at the core of the film. Jeremy Renner almost single-handedly makes the movie work with a great performance, while other capable actors make their presence known. Bad pacing really kills the building momentum. There are definitely standout plot points that needed to be kept, but a few unneeded clichés felt cheap. I am glad I watched KILL THE MESSENGER if only because it shed some light on a troubling story and got me interested enough to read up more on the facts behind the film. I can’t imagine ever watching it again, but it’s a decent flick.

Grade: B-

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