Rag Tale

Rag Tale


Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

Journalism is a vocation oft misrepresented in the movies. Films like The Pelican Brief (1993) and All The President's Men (1976) would have you think journalists are all defenders and seekers of the truth, upholding justice for the little man against the faceless, corrupt establishment. On the other hand, the general consensus seems to be that journalists are nothing but pond-life scum. The only time they're not smearing the reputations of good celebrities across the front pages, or thinking about how to, is when they're coked out of their heads, too vegetative to contemplate such evil actions.

And that's the one element in which Rag Tale succeeds, a more honest depiction of journalists. Sure, there's an unscrupulous paparazzo, with a predilection for heroin and faking photos (Ian Hart, with an incomprehensible Irish drawl). But most of the staff of tabloid The Rag simply want to sell papers, make editions at least half interesting and keep their jobs while they're at it.

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"I'm so bored of the election," complains the editor, Eddy Taylor (Rupert Graves). Knowing his readership, Eddy would much rather run with a monarchy-bashing story, despite its irrelevance. It's an interesting grey area that most of the characters in the film also inhabit.

In this regard, the cast uniformly achieves. Bill Patterson is calm and collected as a Fleet Street veteran news editor, who's seen it all, and Jennifer Jason Leigh does well as the annoying Yank M.J, naively royalist in that cutesy American way, yet calculating and Machiavellian in her plot to unseat the editor, who has just ended a love affair with her. Malcolm McDowell, too, adds authenticity to the role of her husband, the chairman Richard Morton, aptly portraying a new money man, who desperately wants to be old money; "How does Lady Morton sound?" he asks his wife, as they prepare to receive the upper echelons of Buckingham Palace for a dinner party.

It's a pity, however, to see some of the talented cast so underused; Simon Callow particularly only seems to have a handful of lines throughout. It's a shame also that director Mary McGuckian, who worked on the screenplay by improvising with the cast, makes a hash of the plot when the characters are so well sketched out. A battle of wills between Eddy and the chairman over the control of the paper in the wake of M.J's adultery escalates to a grand finale, revolving around a ridiculous, contrived and implausible plot twist, Shakespearean in its extravagance, but absurdly out of place in a film that strives to be so hip and modern.

Worse, however, the photography and editing render the film nigh on unwatchable. At the press screening, the director nervously assured people that they would get used to the visual style, that the kinetic MTV style reflected the fast-paced, hectic world of national newspaper journalism.

Certainly, other films have garnered the dubious credit of possessing MTV style editing, most notably, perhaps, Moulin Rouge (2001). Whereas the narrative of that film moved at face-melting speed along with the cuts, here it is inappropriately only the camera. Shots are invariably at 45 degrees to the screen, alternating first left, then right, followed by a monochrome shot, while irritating dance music plays in the background.

No doubt, this would have proved an effective technique if deployed sparingly to illustrate the intensity and heated debate of the editor's news meetings in the glass walled boardroom, but McGuckian is convinced that it is appropriate for every scene, regardless of context. Thus, we are forced to watch - nay, endure - this method for two endless hours, without pause.

The director has failed to realise that most people don't suffer from attention deficit disorder. The film just won't sit still - barely a single shot is longer than two seconds - and it begins to grind and grate. Be warned; the more clinically depressed are more likely to resort to self-harm and mutilation, carving the phrase STOP CUTTING! into their forearms.

It's a shame to see a British film, with a superb cast and premise, let down so severely by a melodramatic plot and poor camerawork.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2005
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Poisonous cynicism and manipulative scheming at the heart of a national tabloid.
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Read more Rag Tale reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Mary McGuckian

Writer: Mary McGuckian and the cast

Starring: Rupert Graves, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Hart, Lucy Davis, John Sessions, Bill Paterson, Sara Stockbridge, Kerry Fox, Malcolm McDowell, Simon Callow, Cal Macaninch, David Hayman

Year: 2005

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2005

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