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.
In the obvious shorthand, Flame and Citron is Black Book meets Munich. Like Steven Spielberg’s Munich, it’s a sober thriller about how political assassins occupy uneasy moral ground, especially when they’re driven by a lust for vengeance. And, like Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, it’s a World War II thriller about sex and betrayal and how hard it is to trust anyone in occupied territory. I think I prefer both of those movies to this one, but Flame and Citron has its own muscles to flex. In its cool, detached regard for the predicament its protagonists find themselves in, it’s probably tougher than either of them.
I can’t really think of any way to approach In the Loop except by way of the obvious comparison, so here it is: it’s The Office meets Dr. Strangelove. This film, a political farce filled with smart performances and rich profanity in service of both hilarity and despair, borrows its fly-on-the-wall schtick from The Office (either version, take your pick), but elevates the phony vérité strategy by transposing the action from the television show’s cubicles of inconsequence to the very halls of power. Taking place among mostly unsung functionaries in the governments of Great Britain and the United States in the lead-up to the invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, it never attempts to scale the boldly satirical heights of Dr. Strangelove, or to emulate that film’s depictions of megalomania and insanity as catalysts for war. But it is unfailingly witty in its speculation that international aggression isn’t driven by mania as much as facilitated by banality — the case for war as the unwitting spawn of so much interpersonal dick-waving.
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?
Chicago 10, a documentary about the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and subsequent jury trial of eight protester defendants, is a bracing combination of archival footage and contemporary animation. The archival sections speak for themselves — the colorful footage of groovy, loose-lipped protesters with a flair for the theatrics filling Lincoln Park is not only historic, but can be interestingly contrasted against the less colorful demonstrations of today — but the interspersed animated sequences are something unusual. Working from stranger-than-fiction transcripts of the (sadly unphotographed) courtroom proceedings, writer/director Brett Morgan has assembled an all-star cast of character actors (Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, etc.) to portray that world-class cast of characters (including Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther Bobby Seale), animated in a rotoscoped style reminiscent of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.
Enzo G. Castellari’s 1978 World War II adventure is probably most notable for
inspiring a new Quentin Tarantino screenplay. Its three-disc DVD release, from Severin Cinema, is a
surprisingly deluxe affair tied to the Tarantino remake, with Q.T.
himself showing up to interview Castellari and put the
film in some perspective (it was never released theatrically in the
U.S., so Tarantino discovered it on a TV screening). Some
extensive making-of features and a CD of soundtrack music (the third disc) round
out the package.
The John Rambo character, played three times by Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s, filled a specific niche. The brutish, lethal ex-soldier, betrayed by a country full of wishy-washy bureaucrats and politicians, was an antihero for conservatives — defying authority and following his own moral compass, Rambo was a symbol of how American strength, courage, and cunning (plus firepower) could make the world a better place. Two decades later, the fourth movie in the series picks up more or less where the others left off. Rambo is working as a surly snake-wrangler in Thailand when he’s approached by a small group of Christian missionaries seeking his help getting upriver into violence-ridden Myanmar. Reluctantly, he escorts them into the country — and, naturally, eventually ends up rescuing them from an exceedingly nasty predicament. Fans of down-and-dirty action may get a kick out of this — Rambo is outrageously gory, with arms, legs and even heads getting vaporized at machine-gun pace — but it’s pretty shallow stuff. The film may actually help raise Western awareness of Southeast Asian atrocities, though it’s not clear if Stallone thinks the U.S. should go to war there, too. Rambo’s Burmese adventure only seems to confirm his character’s world-weary pessimism. C+