The Good: Very funny, Wonderful plot development, Good performances
The Bad: Some pacing issues in the middle, Unlikable characters
The Basics: Special Correspondents is a Netflix Original Film that puts Ricky Gervais in the three major creative roles for a film . . . and he makes a smart success!
Netflix exclusive films have been a true mixed bag for me. Out of the six I have watched before today, three were flat-out terrible, two were all right and one was wonderful. So, sitting down to Special Correspondents and knowing only that it was a Netflix Original Film was not enough to get me to watch. But then, I found out it starred Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana and I figured, "it would be hard to produce something bad with the two of them!" Then, I saw that Ricky Gervais had written and directed the film and my thought was "How was this not a blockbuster comedy release?" Then I watched it and was left even more baffled.
Special Correspondents is apparently a rewrite/remake of a French film and it is worth noting that I've not seen the French version. As a result, this review is based entirely on Special Correspondents as its own work.
Frank is a radio reporter, sitting in a bar, listening to a police scanner when he hears about a crime going down at the nearby York Hotel. Gaining access to the crime scene, he gets enough details to go on the air with a puff piece. That makes his sound engineer, Ian Finch, happy, but dismays his co-worker Claire and pisses off his boss, Jeffrey Mallard. While at a radio event, Claire and Finch are given an assignment, which leaves Finch's wife, Eleanor, in the same room with Frank. Eleanor sleeps with Frank and he leaves afterward. The next morning, Frank is given an assignment in Equador and he wants to take Finch, who has just been left by his wife. The pair head off to the airport, but there they discover that Finch accidentally threw out their plane ticket and credentials instead of the note he was going to give his wife.
The two retreat to a local restaurant where they brainstorm with the Cafe's managers, Brigida and Domingo. Finch comes up with the idea that they can fake the report, so they set up in the room above the restaurant across from the radio station. Finch creates a sound scape to represent Ecuador and they begin making up the story. To that end, they create Emilia Santiago Alvarez as a man behind the coup in Ecuador. The State Department orders Mallard to get Finch and Bonneville to the U.S. embassy in Quito, as major media organizations run with the Alvarez story. When they fail to make it to the embassy, the story becomes how they have been captured. To play into that, they make a ransom film and their hostage story becomes giant news. Eleanor starts to exploit the story for herself and Claire is assigned to tell her story. To rectify the situation, the guys have to actually smuggle themselves into Ecuador to get to the embassy! Inadvertently, they learn the truth about the situation in Ecuador.
Special Correspondents is a comedy where the premise involves an absurd concept with a built-in obvious potential catastrophe. The film moves away from the obvious pressures of "will they get caught or not" to Eleanor exploiting the situation. That keeps Special Correspondents moving forward. The transition between the major plot elements develops very organically.
Ian Finch is characterized well at the outset as a man who has never accomplished anything. Finch dreams of doing something significant, but instead he plays video games and his life is augmented by a collectibles collection he cherishes. Special Correspondents is the story of how he finds himself out of his element and over his head. He is in a loveless marriage and Special Correspondents has him on the unfortunate emotional journey of getting over his broken marriage.
Frank Bonneville is a stereotypical arrogant local celebrity with delusions of grandeur. Frank is recognized on the street and bathes in the adoration of others. He is, however, not dumb and his ability to think quickly on his feet is quickly established. His observation skills make his affair seem pretty scummy, but his ability to talk his way out of the ethical ramifications of knowingly sleeping with another man's wife is a masterful work of characterization.
Special Correspondents takes a delightful twist when Eleanor Finch reveals her true colors. Eleanor exploits the situation and when she does, she is a terrible person. Eleanor is willing to sacrifice her husband and Frank to protect the money she has gotten out of the grieving American people. She is a reprehensible character and Vera Fermiga plays her exceptionally well.
Perhaps the greatest surprise of Special Correspondents is how funny America Ferrera is in it. What starts as a bit role blossoms into one of the most overtly humorous roles she has had.
Ricky Gervais finds the right balance between overt humor and satire in Special Correspondents. Special Correspondents is like Wag The Dog with more overt humor and it is more focused than American Dreamz (reviewed here!). Special Correspondents does a good job of illustrating just how gullible the American people are and how corruptible the media can be.
More than most movies I've seen lately, Special Correspondents knows when to end and the film returns to the characters for the climax in an effective way. As such, Special Correspondents does all it needs to without getting mired in the long-term ramifications of the deception of the three main characters. The movie does what it sets out to do in a solidly entertaining way and it is well worth watching.
For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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