I probably shouldn’t say this, since I have some good friends who are film critics, but I don’t think movie reviewing is a very high calling. It’s based on the premise that someone’s opinion is somehow “better” or “more accurate” than someone else’s. Really? We’re all just members of the audience and entitled to our reactions to an art work. None of us is superior in that way.
Of course, I’m a hypocrite because I read reviews myself and crave good reviews when I write a book or a film. I’ve even been known to do a little reviewing of my own of a sort, although I attempted to do it from the supposedly empathic position of a fellow filmmaker. Nevertheless I always found something vaguely creepy about the process. My reaction to a snotty review is often if you don’t like the movie, why don’t you make one yourself? Show us how it’s done. (A few have done that in the past — James Agee who wrote the script for The African Queen, Truffaut and some other members of the French New Wave — but not many.)
The most obvious and revealing thing about a movie review is most often the bias of the reviewer — something all of us have and some reviewers have in spades.
I was thinking about that this morning while perusing the Oscar nominations for this year. As an Academy member, I had voted but did not see my number one selection for Best Picture — Lone Survivor — anywhere on the list of the nine nominees. I can’t say I was surprised. Lone Survivor is a patriotic film and patriotism isn’t high on the list of positive traits for Hollywood these days, except perhaps to that group of once-secret outliers known as the Friends of Abe.
Here’s a movie that’ll flop in Kabul. Lone Survivor, the latest by Battleship director Peter Berg, is a jingoistic snuff film about a Navy SEAL squadron outgunned by the Taliban in the mountainous Kunar province. After four soldiers — played with muscles and machismo by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster — get ID’d by Afghan goat herders, they’re in a race to climb to the top of the nearest summit and summon an airlift before these civilians can sprint to the nearest village and alert local leader Ahmad Shah. It doesn’t go well.
Berg’s flick bleeds blood red, bone-fracture white, and bruise blue. It’s based on the memoir Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10by sole evacuee Marcus Luttrell (played by Wahlberg) — and that’s only a spoiler if you’ve ignored the title. Luttrell didn’t exactly write his book. Rather than sitting in front of a word processor, he was back in action in Iraq. Instead, the United States Navy hired British novelist Patrick Robinson, who, among other embellishments, upped the number of enemy Taliban fighters from 10 to 200. Hey, whatever, man. Those aliens in Battleship weren’t real, either.
Embellishments? Sort of like Barack Obama in Dreams from My Father, I guess. We live in a age of embellishments. It just depends on who’s doing it. Period. (I was proving I can be as a snotty as Ms. Nicholson.) I could go on to quote her further, but you can read her bile for yourself at the link.
This is not to say that Lone Survivor is any Lawrence of Arabia or Casablanca. It’s not, by a long shot. Nothing this year was, again by a long shot. It’s just a good, engrossing action film in which Americans are not dissed — and neither are Afghanis, some of whom are good people who help the protagonist survive. But its absence from the list of nine nominees, most of which are not any better, is just another indication of where Hollywood is at. But we all know that.
For the record, of the nominees for Best Picture, so far I am voting for Scorsese’s overlong and overheated Wolf of Wall Street, but I have not yet seen Nebraska and Philomena (bad Roger). I’ll get to them in time. Missing from the list, surprisingly, is the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. But then missing from the film was a plot. So maybe the Academy got it right on that one.
As for those of you who are lining up to diss Hollywood again in the comments, remember the late Andrew Breitbart said that politics is downstream of culture. He was a 1000% correct. Diss Hollywood all you want. It deserves it. But save some of your energy for taking it back. That’s a lot harder. And a lot more important.