Film Critics Shut Their Eyes to Terrorism
Hollywood isn't the only community allergic to the notion of showing the horrors of terrorism on screen. Some movie critics don't want to see terrorists in any way, shape, or form there, either.
And by terrorists, we mean Islamo-fascists willing to die to take out as many innocents as possible. Not American troops indiscriminately killing civilians like in Brian De Palma's Redacted.
The latest proof comes courtesy of Traitor, a new movie starring Don Cheadle as a special operations officer who switches teams from the U.S. to the terrorists. The movie takes pains to portray Muslims in three dimensions, and goes so far as to allow Islamic radicals to explain some of the reasons for their barbarous behavior.
It's a kinder, gentler type of terrorism movie, but cinematic beggars can't be choosers.
Traitor is far from a blockbuster, either in quality or tickets sold ($7.9 million in its first weekend). Still, it's drawing some tortured reviews from the critical masses.
Let's start with the Washington Post's own Philip Kennicott. His Traitor review isn't content to merely slam the movie. He goes one step further, suggesting it shouldn't ever have been made.
Terrorism is a dubious subject for entertainment. The excesses of fear it inspires are corrosive to society. The prejudices that underlie those fears are not neutralized by hiring Don Cheadle. The things that are inherently exciting in a film about terrorism -- violence, torture, and the ticking clock that portends doom -- are the very sort of things that short-circuit our ability to think rationally about the threats we face.
Yes, he's saying audiences are too dumb to distinguish fiction from reality, and hinting that terrorism should be off limits for filmmakers. The legion of 24 fans won't like that one bit.
Entertainment Weekly offered its own disappointing spin in its review, which gave Traitor a "C" rating. Again, the audience is assumed to be slack-jawed yokels ready to take marching orders from Hollywood confection:
Many rainbow-colored actors ... contribute their faces in the cause of a paycheck (good for them) and an agitation of racist paranoia (not good for us).
But EW isn't finished: "The wait isn't worth it in this fear mongering, opportunistic political/spy thriller."
The Onion A.V. Club, a reliable source of pungent criticism, gives Traitor credit for depicting Muslims in the aforementioned three-dimensional fashion, but still gripes about the finished product.
In a cinema world that all too often stereotypes Muslims as one-dimensional bad guys, Traitor dares to take Islam seriously, if not for the troubling fact that most of the Muslims here are terrorists.
In today's Hollywood, the bad guys are far more likely to be rednecks, corporate fat cats, or Euro trash than Muslims, so the Onion is misguided on two fronts.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Scott Von Doviak uses his review slot to blame the film because it "unwittingly fans the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment."
So any film showing Muslim terrorists will fan said flames? Perhaps critics should submit a list to Hollywood screenwriters about what they can and can't write about in a dastardly fashion. Would be a fascinating read, even if the integrity of movies would take a sizable hit as a result.
The Star-Telegram critic couldn't resist the chance to slam the current administration, even if he has to strain mightily to do so.
There's a terrorist around every corner in Traitor, to the point where you start wondering if "Steve Martin" [who co-wrote the story] is a pen name for Dick Cheney.
Other film critics applauded the film's depth, but otherwise badly misjudged the audiences they're supposed to serve.
Detroit News film critic Tom Long offers a harsh, albeit evenhanded, slam against Traitor, but then misjudges a key element in the film:
Americans haven't exactly been begging for movies about the Middle East or terrorism lately.
Who says Americans aren't itching to see terrorism on screen? The Kingdom did far better at the box office than the slate of anti-war films last year, and the more recent Vantage Point was one of this year's genuine sleepers.
Film critics have limited pull with the public and their clout has likely diminished with the rise of Internet-based movie reviewers. But they still can rally support for indie films that lack the budget of their bigger peers, and their raves can help underline enthusiasm for great popcorn movies like this summer's The Dark Knight. Many movie critics, like the Associated Press' Christy Lemire, provide sober analysis that helps movie fans make sense out of their local film marquee.
But critics do their audience a grave disservice when they rally their thoughts against the few films that dare to depict the very real threat of terrorism against Western culture.