Throughout most of film history, it would have been inconceivable to mount a 95-minute mainstream film that took place entirely within the confines of a wooden coffin buried several feet underground. All hail the cell phone – with one of those gadgets helpfully stashed near his person, Ryan Reynolds is a one-man suspense movie. In Buried, an English-language film from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes and writer Chris Sparling, he plays Paul Conroy, an American contractor who drove supply trucks across the Iraq desert until his convoy was ambushed by insurgents. He wakes up in a pine box – a fairly roomy one, actually – equipped with said phone and a few temperamental sources of light.
Director Paul Greengrass airlifts Jason Bourne to war-torn Baghdad in this Iraq-occupation thriller that casts Matt Damon as a crusading soldier uncovering evidence of lies and misdirection in the American war on terrorism. It’s a less successful companion piece to his almost unbearably tense United 93. Using the language of action movies to build a much larger-than-life experience, these two films build a post-9/11 cinematic mythology, a snapshot of a long moment in U.S. history that reframes debate in aggressively populist terms. United 93 is some kind of masterpiece, but the grander scope and general lack of nuance in Green Zone fuel some awfully stentorian, ham-handed moments that nearly sink the film.
The Ghost Writer opens, appropriately enough given the film’s generally menacing tone, with the death of a ferry passenger. The man’s absence is discovered through the presence of an empty BMW on deck after all the passengers disembark. His body, bloated with liquor and decay, washes up on the beach. Did the poor bastard simply get soused and totter off a slippery deck? In a Roman Polanski movie? Not bloody likely.
The Hurt Locker opens in medias res, depicting a trio of soldiers working on the streets of Iraq. The movie doesn’t stop to explain what they’re up to or put their actions in context. The audience is left to infer the circumstance, but it’s not hard to imagine the scenario. Judging from the cutting and the jumpy handheld camera style, we’re looking at a tense situation. That robot rolling around by remote control, poking at a pile of refuse, is probably looking for a bomb. And when the robot breaks down and one of the men starts suiting up like Sigourney Weaver in the last scene of Alien, it’s a sure bet he’s about to play a game of red-wire/black-wire with a scary chunk of explosives. The tension is heightened, actually, by the fact that the movie has just begun. These characters are interchangeable and, because the movie has yet to present us with a formal protagonist, potentially expendable. That’s how director Kathryn Bigelow gets way ahead of her audience in this film’s very first sequence. Barely five minutes into her movie and already I was cowering in my theater seat, terrified that something was about to blow.
There’s a tension in Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure between the subject matter–the torture and humiliation of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad during the U.S. occupation of Iraq–and what Morris is really up to. Anyone who’s read his excellent “Zoom” blog for The New York Times, including his brilliant, three-part consideration of the pedigree of two different photographs taken by Roger Fenton during the Crimean War, knows that the director is concerned lately with the methodical, emotionless investigation of the circumstances surrounding a picture’s taking. He wants to know what a photo conceals in addition to what it reveals–what’s happening outside its spatial frame? Its temporal boundaries?
Timely art about the Iraq War seems so crucial to a sense of
cultural equilibrium, and Redacted is at some levels such an impressive reboot
of Brian De Palma’s career, that part of me wants to figure out reasons to
shower it with praise. Unfortunately, while Redacted, a verité-style drama
about a group of American soldiers manning a checkpoint in
things, it’s dramatically inert. It’s inspired, De Palma says, by a real event
involving the rape of a 14-year-old girl and the slaughter of her and her
family. Maybe it’s no wonder that, confronting this kind of horror, De Palma
founders, scrambling not just to capture that kind of atrocity in his camera
viewfinder, but to do it in a way that makes any kind of sense.
Sweeeeeet. The “e” stands for “electronic” as well as for “English”. Mais oui. Now I don’t have to keep typing sentences into translate.google.com and hitting