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Shoot the Messenger (2006)

 |  Drama  |  26 April 2006 (USA)
7.1
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 185 users  
Reviews: 26 user | 5 critic

Shoot The Messenger follows one man's painful journey towards self-discovery. On the way he finds both his own attitudes and the expectations of his community challenged.

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Woman #1
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Shoot The Messenger follows one man's painful journey towards self-discovery. On the way he finds both his own attitudes and the expectations of his community challenged.

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26 April 2006 (USA)  »

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It has good points and does challenge but it sadly isn't good enough as satire, social commentary or a film
3 September 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Joseph Pascale used to be a computer programmer until he went to a small community meeting where everyone seems to be blaming everyone else for the fact that black boys are the worst performers at schools. Teachers were blamed for pushing them towards sports, schools blamed for not running "ethnic friendly" courses for them while others blamed the lack of schools just for black people. When one person blames the lack of black male teachers, Joe decides to give it a go. In his 70% black school he is the only black teacher and he tries to be a role model – encouraging the ones willing to try and trying to force those unwilling. However when he puts a hand on a boy's shoulder to guide him into a classroom, he is accused of abuse.

Originally to be called "F*** Black People" this film uses its title to let us know its intention to start a debate, to get people agreeing with it or get people disagreeing with it. What it says is that the black community has problems and they need addressing. However whether opening with the line "everything bad that has ever happened to me has involved a black person" may or may not have been the way to go (and, yes, I know the line refers to himself and is part of the point about taking personal responsibility, but it did open the gates for attacks straight away). To its credit the film does tackle difficult subjects head on. In the UK we do have a problem with black boys underachieving; is it racism? Why do other ethnic minority groups not have this problem to the same degree? Trying to address the problem we have the laughable CRE led by Trevor Phillips doing just the same thing – blaming everyone else. It is him and not a BBC drama that I want to hear challenging the black community but in fairness I suppose he is only one man and it is easier to point the finger than do anything else.

Of course the fact that a debate is a good thing doesn't necessarily read that this film is. It has moments that have value but the delivery is rather mixed. On one hand it has a story but on the other it has lots of asides to the camera and these two approaches are not married that well together. Likewise it varies wildly between really well made points and lines that are pure controversy baiters ("bring back slavery – we were good at that")not to mention stuff that comedians were doing a decade ago (stuff about "black" names and weaves). And so the good points that are well made and the interesting lines of debate are lost in the middle of stuff with a lot less value and a lot less interest. It is clear across the film that Joe himself has issues he needs to address but the film does a bad job of communicating what these areas are to us and instead just uses it as an excuse to say whatever he wants whether it is right or not. The cop out at the end is a real letdown as well – Joe learns a lesson and admits he is wrong by saying he won't take back everything he has said but the script doesn't allow him to say what points he made that were wrong and which were right. This leaves it all out there where really the film could have used this ending to summarise what it was saying. By saying "so shoot me" it suggests that maybe it is happy to leave Joe's wrong statements out there and not to deliver a message when it could grab controversy instead. The narrative is also pretty extreme and sees Joe jumping from one end of the scale to the other. The script seems to lack the control to hold it all together and Foster's writing needed a lot more work to build a better, more concise argument within a better story.

Kudos to the BBC for showing it though because this is the sort of thing they should be showing – not offensive or racist stuff but stuff that challenges but isn't commercial enough to get picked up by a channel relying on advertising revenue. I would sooner my license fee went on this than some rubbish sitcom that any channel can churn out (yes "My Hero" I'm looking at you). The direction is good though and the cast generally respond well. It belongs to Oyelowo of course and he is convincing from start to finish – what a shame that the material did not give him more consistency and depth to work with. Of the support cast both Amuka-Bird and the guy playing Jamal did well but nobody else really got the material they go (and even they didn't get that much).

Overall then this is an OK film at best. It mixes good delivery with bad delivery; mixes good points with points just designed to inflame; mixes serious points with "points" that a poor man's Eddie Murphy would reject as being too old and mixes a story with general attacks. Personally I don't think it is racist, naïve or any other mud being slung at it. There is a debate to be had and there are things that are wrong (several of them raised in this film), but this film isn't good enough to make an intelligent enough, sharp enough or meaningful enough summary of them.


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