Rag Tale
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Mary McGuckian
scr Mary McGuckian and cast
with Rupert Graves, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Malcolm McDowell, Kerry Fox, Ian Hart, Lucy Davis, Simon Callow, John Sessions, David Hayman, Bill Paterson, Sara Stockbridge, Cal Macaninch
release UK 7.Oct.05
05/UK 2h02

Newsmakers: editorial team

graves leigh fox

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Rag Tale There's sharp, telling satire running through this improvised British film about tabloid journalists. But writer-director McGuckian undermines her work with a visual approach that emphasises style over substance.

In the week of the 2004 US election, publisher Richard Morton (McDowell) of the daily newspaper The Rag finds out that editor Eddy (Graves) is having an affair with his deputy MJ (Leigh), who happens to be Morton's wife. A power struggle ensues, in which Morton forces Eddy to run MJ's pro-monarchy articles. But Eddy has a plan to get even and save his job, hiring a paparazzo (Hart) to dig up some useful dirt. And MJ has ambitions of her own.

This is tense and lively stuff, often hilariously funny, vividly digging into the inner workings of a tabloid that sells headlines instead of actual news. There's a terrific sense of the multiple strands that keep things moving: politics in government, the journalism business and within the office. And the adept cast brings it to life only occasionally betraying the improv dialog to seasoned hacks who actually know a story when they see one (these characters don't). Stand-outs are Fox's fiercely hilarious Peach and Hart's hyperactive Morph. Graves and McDowell are both cool and dangerous. Leigh makes her dumb American both deeply annoying and oddly sympathetic. While Sessions, Callow and Davis add wonderful comic subtext.

But McGuckian falls on her own sword in the photography and editing. She's clearly trying for MTV-style edginess, but even MTV knows to use seasick camerawork, jagged cutting and colour/monochrome shifts sparingly. For key scenes this works brilliantly, but spread over 122 minutes it's just annoying. The constant extreme close-ups offer no context, which badly undermines relationships (especially where something sexy is apparently happening) and key events leading up to the fateful, Shakespearean finale. She really needed to develop variations on the style for different scenes, in order to convey the plot coherently. There is simply no reason for the film to look like this, besides distracting us from the story's weaknesses. With a bit more directorial originality, this could have been a crackling black comedy.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, innuendo 6.Sep.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall