The Exhilaration of Vice

by Benjamin Domenech on 2:54 pm October 12, 2007

So one of the networks ran a package on the spate of recent war movies from Hollywood, most of them of distinctly anti-American thematic content, in which an interview with some film critic or other was introduced this way:

“This is not your father’s Hollywood, is it?”

Answer: “No. In the World War II era, war films were gung-ho patriotic. [blah blah blah]”

The interesting thing here is that they’ve got their generational notions all screwed up. They think themselves vibrant radicals, rebelling against a stale tradition. The reverse is true. In fact “your father’s Hollywood” is now the Hollywood of “Apocalypse Now”, “Full Metal Jacket” and even “Platoon” — very far from “gung-ho patriotic,” in short.

The stale tradition in Hollywood, friends, is anti-Americanism, and these nitwits in Hollywood are utterly innocent of what dreary traditionalist they have become. What would be really radical, really a vigorous revolt against an antique fashion, is unbashed patriotism in a movie.

It’s like that old Chesterton quip: “Defending any of the cardinal virtues today has all the exhilaration of vice.”

Paul sent this note along a few days ago. I’d been thinking about it a lot recently after seeing the starkly divided critical reaction to Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, a quality film that manages to say some important statements while telling what seems, on a surface level, like a typical action story. It bears more than a few similarities to Black Hawk Down, and it’s certainly worth seeing, despite what Anthony Lane said about it.

Somehow, the critics can’t seem to see an action movie that’s at all pro-America – even one that shows America’s leadership on the ground to be flawed and disorganized, one that shows how complex these situations truly are, and one where the true hero of a movie isn’t Jamie Foxx or Jennifer Garner, but a strong and stable Saudi policeman played brilliantly by Ashraf Barhom – without labeling it as jingoistic, or comparing it unfavorably to Rambo. This says a lot more about the critics themselves, I think, than the biases of the film.

Instead, the critics want the unfettered leftist claptrap that you’re going to have ample opportunity to see in the coming months. There’s the two Meryl Streep films (she’s the good liberal journalist in one, evil in the other) Rendition and Lions for Lambs, which previews seem to indicate consist primarily of straw men making ridiculous pro-war statements, only to be rebutted by the wise liberals, or scolded by Robert Redford (who suddenly got really, really old – he could still carry things in Spy Game, but looks worse than Paul Newman now). And then John Cusack will tug at our heartstrings in Grace is Gone, which is less about lecturing than finding inner peace after loss (and I’d bet it’s more successful than either of the others). And after all that, we’ve still got about a half-dozen indie films, followed by Body of Lies with Russell Crowe and Leo DiCaprio next year, another “the CIA screwed us all over and put us in this mess by being anti-communist” movie directed by Ridley Scott.

While I haven’t seen these films yet, the common factor here is simple and easily evident after reading any plot: these are polemical films, intended to preach, not intended to tell stories. It’s as ham-handed and predictable as the afternoon movie on Lifetime. Look, I don’t mind watching the occasional propaganda movie, from the left or right, if they’re actually good or even enjoyable movies. Regardless of the way your creation is judged for political reasons, at least make it good as art.

Of all of these sad attempts, the worst is an adaptation of a tragic true story, with Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon: In the Valley of Elah is getting the kind of critical praise and angry veteran response that you can expect for all of these other upcoming projects, with the added element of the father who still insists that his son, who after his return from Iraq was stabbed 33 times by fellow soldiers after a night of boozing, was killed for more complex reasons – despite the lack of any hard evidence to that effect.

Davis remains bitter, not only about the loss of his son, but toward the investigators and prosecutors in the case. He’s also a bit perplexed by the direction of the film, particularly when it deals with the four men accused of the crime.

“This wasn’t a case of PTSD,” [the father] insists, referring to post-tramatic stress disorder. “These guys had their motives for killing my son and it had nothing to do with them being kicked out of the Platinum Club.”

He continues to think that his son witnessed an event or events in Iraq that led to his death.

“He had to be silenced,” he said.

It’s sad to see Hollywood playing this game with this father’s emotions, but hey, we all know what gods they worship in that town.
A better question, and one worth asking, is this: What stories did Hollywood used to tell, and what stories does Hollywood deem worthy of telling now?

They tell the heroic story of Jimmy Carter. They tell the courageous story of the Howard Dean campaign, written by an ex-Dean staffer and starring Jake Gyllenhaal on Broadway, now headed to the silver screen with Leo DiCaprio, directed by George Clooney. Oh, and they tell about Charlie Wilson’s War – which sounds on its face like it’s going to be another “anti-communists got us into this” screed – but this one, of course, is about a liberal Democrat, so it’s certainly going to be more fair.

Maybe years from now, when the climate isn’t the way it is, they’ll get around to telling another story, buried in the papers, when the words of the critics have faded away, and the Medal of Honor still stands.

UPDATE: It seems that most people really DON’T want to see this stuff. Try again, Hollywood.

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