Now that Brian De Palma’s Redacted is such a bomb you almost feel sorry for the director (the film opened nationally to a total audience of three thousand souls – you could do better with your grandmother’s home movies… or maybe even a blank screen), I would like to go further with my analysis of why the Hollywood antiwar movies are failing.
In his interview with Pajamas Media, actor/politician Fred Thompson said they flopped because they were probably “bad movies.” Undoubtedly so, but there is a reason for why this particular “badness” occurred and it is not simply their seemingly anti-American viewpoint. The movies are essentially inauthentic. The filmmakers think they are supposed to be antiwar, but they don’t feel it in their guts.
How do I know that? Part of this is admittedly a gut feeling on my part. This feels to me like a cinema of “received wisdom,” not based on personal experience or “emotional knowledge” of any kind. No matter how you stand or stood on the Vietnam War, compare these recent ventures (Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, The Valley of Elah) with, to pick one example, Oliver Stone’s Platoon. The director’s passion is literally splattered all over the screen. Ditto for his Born on the Fourth of July. And, not surprisingly, the audience went.
No passion, no conviction of this sort, is evident in the current movies. And that is lethal. Art without genuine conviction is boring and worthless. What else does the artist (filmmaker) have to give to the audience but his or her passion? It’s no surprise the audience is disinterested without it.
But – to go a bit further – why this curious distance, almost alienation, between author and subject in these cases? As we all know, conventional wisdom in Hollywood has been anti-Iraq War virtually from the start and when these films were being initiated, well over a year ago now, the war was in its deepest quagmire, at least seemingly so. Serious filmmakers – or filmmakers who think they are serious – are often looking around for their “Oscar picture” at that juncture. What could be a better premise then than criticism of a government (ours) that their peers almost universally despised? It was like being a rebel with a safety net. Even if the film failed to win a prize, general approbation would accrue in the entertainment community.
Normally this would instill passion, or at least passionate ambition, but there is a subtler and more treacherous roadblock to authenticity in all this that is not frequently acknowledged. While the Vietnam and Iraq Wars are often equated by the liberal-left, the differences between the two are greater than the similarities, especially in the critical area of who is the adversary. For Vietnam: The evils of communism could be and were rationalized by the left as a plea for social equality in an economically unjust world. For Iraq: The evils of Islamofascism and just plain fascism are considerably harder, indeed almost impossible, to rationalize.
This problem is particularly true for Hollywood because the evils of Islamofascism – notably extreme misogyny and homophobia – are justifiably big no-nos to people in the Industry. In fact, they are close to the biggest no-nos of all for them in their daily lives. Who is worse than a sexist pig? Only a violent, murderous sexist pig who wants to take over the world. It then becomes a complex balancing act indeed to make a movie that ignores or downplays this in order to criticize the US as the larger villain. No one has been able to come close to pulling off this balancing act in a film. In fact, it may well be impossible because it is fundamentally dishonest.
So the filmmaker is reduced to the idea that our problem is that we are fighting these obvious (and largely unspoken) evils in the wrong way. But there is no easy way to fight anything. Or even to not fight it. Otherwise we would be living in a perfect world. So the idea itself is not even possible, yielding yet another level of fakery. No wonder these films seem inauthentic.
But all is not lost, cinema fans. It may be that if the Surge continues to be successful, in the not-so-distant future a wholly different kind of Iraq War movie will emerge. And they will be made by the veterans themselves. If we are particularly lucky, they will seem more like Casablanca than Redacted.