'Special Correspondents' Isn't A True Story, But The Netflix Comedy Has A Complicated History
Ricky Gervais has a talent for pointing out the ludicrousness of everyday situations. In the original version of The Office , he took the familiar misery of a dull 9-5 to award-wining comedic heights. In The Invention Of Lying, he used humor to make his audience take a good, hard look at how many times they tell casual falsehoods in the course of their day. And in the Netflix Original movie Special Correspondents, Gervais targets the 24 hour news cycle. Gervais wrote the script for the satire and stars alongside Eric Bana. The two play an ethically challenged journalistic team who are supposed to be embedded in Ecuador but end up faking their radio broadcasts from a cozy Manhattan apartment when they hit a travel snag. The movie sends up the culture's obsession with info-tainment, but did Gervais borrow from someone's real experience for the script? Is Special Correspondents based on a true story?
The Netflix movie is a wholly fictional story, but it is an adaptation. Gervais said to The Guardian that he "de-Frenched" the screenplay of the original version, Envoyés très spéciaux. The French film was released in 2009 and starred Gérard Jugnot and Gérard Lanvin as the dishonest pair. In both movies, the lies compound to protect the journalists' secret: that they are not in the warzone where they claim to be. The French correspondents fake their dispatches from Iraq. Sound man Ian (Gervais) and reporter Frank (Bana) fool the world into believing that they're in the middle of a violent revolution in Ecuador.
The set-up is reminiscent of political satires that have come before. In Wag The Dog, the U.S. government fakes a war to steer an election. In Bob Roberts, a divisive and under-qualified candidate games the system to become a front-runner for President. And I can't forget to mention The Interview, the movie that ensured that Seth Rogen and James Franco would never, ever be welcomed into North Korea. But that's to be expected when you make a stoner comedy about assassinating an actual, living dictator.
In this new satire, Frank and Ian's scheme spins out of control as the public becomes fascinated with their "heroic" story. There's plenty of funny material to be mined from the media's tendency to deify individuals in order to increase ratings and in its audience's morbid fixation on observing death and destruction from the safety of their own cushy lives. But Gervais is also interested in what drives his main characters; what kind of men would even consider attempting this kind of stunt? Gervais told The Guardian:
Everything I do is somehow rooted in humanity. It’s always about people, it’s always about ego, it’s always about desperation. It’s quite existential. You know, "Am I leading a good life?" That might be because I’m an atheist and I think this is all we’ve got, so you better be nice. And have fun.
"Ego" and "desperation" are two feasible reasons why two men with something to prove would rather place their bets on a massive case of fraud than admit that they screwed up. In that way, Special Correspondents is closer to real life than media professionals and watchers would like to admit.
Image: Kerry Hayes/Netfilx