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This week Matt Damon hits theaters with the thinly veiled, pro-amnesty sci-fi parable Elysium. It’s a movie in which struggling Latinos stranded on a wrecked planet Earth 150 years from now plot ways to steal citizenship on a utopian space station called Elysium where the richest and whitest people have fled. This is all nothing new for Damon, who has pushed a liberal political agenda many times before. Here are the five worst political ideas that have been central to his films.
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5) The CIA is evil.
The 2006 film The Good Shepherd is loosely based on the early days of the OSS and the CIA, with Robert De Niro directing and playing a figure modeled on “Wild Bill” Donovan (the founder of the OSS, which became the CIA after World War II) and Damon starring as James Jesus Angleton, the CIA executive who befriended British turncoat Kim Philby.
The movie is a somber, depressing affair of a descent into darkness that amounts to a sort of Greatest Hits of anti-CIA liberals obsessed with such disappointments as the agency’s experiments with LSD and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Though few outside the liberal establishment can see the wisdom in letting the KGB go unanswered during the Cold War, the film portrays the CIA as fatally morally compromised — a kind of cancer on the whole idea of America.
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4) Fracking is bad, or something.
Spoiler alert: Damon’s strange 2012 flop Promised Land came and went so quickly it hardly attracted any notice, but it deserves to be watched and ridiculed for its preposterous central conceit.
Damon, who co-wrote the script, plays a hard-nosed negotiator sent out by fracking companies to blend into rural areas and exploit gullible townsfolk into selling the rights to the land beneath their feet for far less than it’s actually worth. Despite his cheerleading for fracking, and his opposition to a Greenpeace type (John Krasinski) who schools the townsfolk (and the audience) with the urban legend that fracking causes drinking water to become flammable, the movie takes an utterly bizarre U-turn at the end, when it is revealed that (surprise!) Krasinski’s character is actually a double agent who is secretly working for the fracking companies and has been sent to make eco warriors look bad.
While it’s amusing to think that fracking opponents are so incompetent they’re actually doing more harm than good for their side, they actually aren’t a joke: they sometimes succeed in scaring up job-destroying fracking bans, such as in New York state, which could really use the economic boost in its western rural areas.
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3) We were the bad guys in Iraq.
Perhaps Damon’s most viciously America-hating film is the indefensible 2010 mega-bomb Green Zone, one of Universal’s biggest-ever money-losers.
The movie’s operating myth is that nefarious Pentagon forces who wanted to stir up war in Iraq simply lied about the WMDs (when every major intelligence service including that of France, which opposed the Iraq invasion, believed Saddam Hussein was hiding the weapons). During the Iraq war, an evil Rumsfeldian type (played by Greg Kinnear in the film) even sends out assassination teams of U.S. troops to murder Iraqis to hide what he’s doing, risking setting off a civil war within Iraq that could potentially be even more costly in terms of life than the actual invasion.
The movie is set up so that you’re supposed to root for the noble Iraqis when they do battle with American soldiers portrayed as murderous thugs.
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2) No, really, the U.S. is responsible for messing up the whole Mideast.
Damon plays an oilman with close ties to the U.S. government in 2005’s Syriana, in which a country meant to make us think of Saudi Arabia is portrayed as on the cusp of tremendous liberal reforms which, improbably, are opposed by oil companies and their lackeys inside the U.S. government.
U.S. forces actually assassinate the reforming prince — as if the U.S. wouldn’t love to see a liberal democracy in Saudi Arabia (and as if we didn’t expend considerable blood and treasure trying to achieve exactly that goal directly to Saudi Arabia’s north in Iraq). For one thing, if Saudi Arabia behaved like a normal, free-market-based country instead of as a repressive regime that props up OPEC, energy prices would plummet.
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1) Howard Zinn was a truth-teller.
Matt Damon’s entire career rests on the Oscar-winning screenplay he and Ben Affleck wrote as starring vehicles for themselves, Good Will Hunting. Without it, both actors would have disappeared into the Hollywood digestive tract. A chance side comment Damon shamelessly threw into the movie as a plug for his favorite Marxist intellectual, though, turned out to be hugely influential. Few people who weren’t subscribers to The Nation had ever heard of Howard Zinn when Damon’s genius character said in the movie, “Read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That book’ll knock you on your ass.”
That vile tract — which was recently runner-up in a survey that asked historians to name “the least credible history book in print” — has been a mammoth bestseller ever since, warping millions of young Americans and convincing them to view their homeland as a racist, sexist, genocidal machine for oppressing the poor. The book continues to poison the wells: When Purdue University president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels correctly suggested it wasn’t up to standards, the Left that dominates the educational establishment predictably went ballistic and cried censorship — as if universities now have a solemn duty to propagate a hideously distorted Pravda-level take on U.S. history.