Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Is "30 Minutes or Less" Wrong to Exploit a Tragic True Crime?

By Christopher Campbell | Spout August 8, 2011 at 4:33AM

It's one thing to be upset about a documentary portraying your misfortunes as farce, as in the case of Joyce McKinney's objections to "Tabloid," but is it necessary to go on record with disapproval of a narrative comedy that only loosely bases its plot on your real tragedy? The new movie "30 Minutes or Less" has been deemed terribly insensitive by the family of pizza delivery man turned bank robber Brian Wells, who was allegedly forced by others to commit the crime while a bomb was strapped to his chest. His life ended horribly when he was blown up in front of authorities and the media (and on live TV) after being taken into custody in the bank parking lot.
5

It's one thing to be upset about a documentary portraying your misfortunes as farce, as in the case of Joyce McKinney's objections to "Tabloid," but is it necessary to go on record with disapproval of a narrative comedy that only loosely bases its plot on your real tragedy? The new movie "30 Minutes or Less" has been deemed terribly insensitive by the family of pizza delivery man turned bank robber Brian Wells, who was allegedly forced by others to commit the crime while a bomb was strapped to his chest. His life ended horribly when he was blown up in front of authorities and the media (and on live TV) after being taken into custody in the bank parking lot.

In "30 Minutes," Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza boy similarly coerced into bank robbery similarly with a bomb strapped to his chest. For the rest of the certain parallels, in spite of Sony's claim the filmmakers were barely aware of the true 2003 incident, check out Jen Yamato's comparison over at Movieline. The only way the movie could have been more obviously inspired by the Brian Wells case is if director Ruben Fleisher had cast Bryan Cranston as the lead (tell me this photo doesn't make you think of "Breaking Bad"). And it may just come down to how recognizable the story is for how offensively exploitative it's viewed as.

Screenwriting students are taught to peruse the news for unique plots, and then it's all about fictionalizing the details to avoid legal ramifications (a very common practice for "Law & Order" scripts, and in fact a 2004 episode of "Criminal Intent" was mined from this case). Of course Wells' family can't sue anyone involved with "30 Minutes," so all they can do is get the public to empathetically reject the film. But should we really avoid a movie because it hurts an isolated group of people? I think it's more appropriate for us to object to any comedy with a humorous scene involving drunk driving, because that's a sore spot for a wider population. Might we have boycotted "The Change-Up" this past weekend for all the people whose kid succumbed to an accident in the home because it has a cartoonish sequence with babies playing with knives and electric sockets?

So much of comedy is at the expense of others, from minor insults and kicks to the crotch to hard-edged epithets and wood chipper murders. If any of these are relatable, that's often the point. If any are upsetting to people, that's on the offended not the offender. The title of the movie itself might evoke feelings in people affected by Domino's discontinued "30 minutes or it's free" policy, which led to a number of accidents. And anyone can be reminded of personal pain by anything. As far as I'm aware, "30 Minutes" features no credit claiming it's based on a true story, even loosely. When a film does make some kind of acknowledgment, it's more appropriate for, say, John Wojtowicz to go to the media with clarifications regarding his story, which was more plainly yet still only partially adapted into "Dog Day Afternoon." Everyone knows that film stems from a true story, mainly because it asserts such.

Wells' sister, whose quoted opinion about the movie being objectively unfunny is all over the web today, may feel she and her family are victims of Hollywood. In reality, although it's apparent that she was approached with this story and didn't start the controversy herself, she's helping to draw more attention to the specific tragedy and draw the link between the movie and her brother's death. She ought to be more annoyed with the Associated Press for bringing it up and even pointing out that "grotesque" footage of Wells blowing up can be easily found online. Now there will be more moviegoers with the awareness (and perhaps a visual) of the sourced events consciously laughing at them, whether they feel bad about doing so or not. But if they're not too dim they should be able to make the distinction between reality and fiction, as with any other movie.

Follow Spout on Twitter (@Spout) and be a fan on Facebook
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic)






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More