Magazine article Tikkun

No Good Answers Left

Magazine article Tikkun

No Good Answers Left

Article excerpt




(Metro-Goldwyn-MayerStudios, 2007)


(Magnolia Pictures, 2007)


(Magnolia Pictures, 2006)

Review by Katie Richstatter

Films about war are not known for their subtlety; war itself is not a subtle act, even one as ambiguous and confounding as the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan has been. And when filmmakers tackle the subject, the result is generally anything but subjective. Recently, a rush of films trying to make sense of recent history have come quickly through theaters: Rendition, The Kingdom, and In the Valley ofElah got mixed reviews, and barely registered in box onice sales. And currently, Lions for Lambs and Redacted, the first showy with budgeted star power, the second deliberately shoestring, shot in HD video and with no actors of note, have arrived to a less-than-overwhelming welcome. Is it simply too soon to make meaning of this history? Are we as apathetic or complicit as indicted by some of the films? Or are we just weary of a war that Thomas Ricks, a Washington Post correspondent and author of Fiasco, called a tragedy in five acts, of which he believes we're only in act three. The documentary No End in Sight echoes this sentiment and its recent release on DVD will hopefully broaden its audience. Whether the films are patriotic or in protest, the public seems to be covering its eyes and ears, maybe avoiding what Ricks describes as seeing that "this country collectively panicked and went down the wrong path," and not knowing the first thing about how to mitigate the damage.

Lions for Lambs, hyped to the hilt before its release, is a play-like gabfest with a confused style-mostly it feels old-fashioned, just dialogues in static settings, broken up by adrenaline-fueled action sequences in Afghanistan. The film shifts from a conversation between a conservative crocodilian senator, Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) and a liberal, weary reporter, Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) in Washington DC; an apathetic but supposedly brilliant college kid, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) and his liberal, weary yet motivational Vietnam vet professor, Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) at an unnamed, Berkeley-like California University; and the combat mission of two of Professor Maliers prized former students, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke). Senator Jasper has called in Roth to feed her an "exclusive" about an ambitious new strategy in Afghanistan, set to begin "ten minutes ago." The offensive is the child of right-wing righteousness and PR savvy-Jasper and his colleagues want to hand the country "a win" to help sell the package of the war on terror as a whole. His language is clipped and ideological, speaking of our "moral obligation" against an enemy with "medieval beliefs," culminating in the chilling phrase "whatever it takes." There isn't room for discussion, the United States is tired of being humiliated, and the question-yes or nois do you want to win the war on terror? Cruise in this role is unfortunately, given the intended message of the film, its most convincing, if most frightening, character. Streep gets in a few good jabs, but is criminally underused; she's merely a cipher for a mainstream media that helped sell the wartothepubhcmthefirst place, corporate and more concerned with web hits than truth. Her knowledge of this reads painfully on her face, along with the nostalgia forwhat she once was.

Cut to director Redford, in Professor Malle/s book-lined office, across from a slumped post-teen he's trying to get through to. This sequence is the least affecting of the three, mostly because of the Wunderkind himself-in the scenes meant to illuminate that he's the hope for his generation, he's more of a snotty devil's advocate. And Redford delivers the film's most cringe-worthy dialogue, tellingyoungTodd "Rome is burning, son." The classroom scenes ofhis former students, however, are amongst the most moving, and raise the best questions of the film. …

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