Hollywood's Message Reconsidered; One Film Dampens the Drumbeat of America's Critics

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Hollywood's Message Reconsidered; One Film Dampens the Drumbeat of America's Critics


Byline: Mary Claire Kendall, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Since Hollywood's inception 100 years ago this January, when filmmakers decamped from New York to avoid paying Thomas Edison his royalties, industry leaders have always insisted their mission was pure entertainment. (Edison was not amused.)

As producer Samuel Goldwyn said, If you want to send a message, use Western Union.

But, as professor Ernest Giglio argues in Here's Looking at You: Hollywood, Film and Politics, producers and directors have always exercised enormous influence in their films on American attitudes and opinions, starting with D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), negatively portraying blacks in the South. It just goes to show Hollywood has not always gotten it right on big issues of the day.

Today's big issue - the war on terror - is another case in point.

Certain films, like Body of Lies (2008), In the Valley of Elah (2007), Rendition (2007) and Lions for Lambs (2007) contain stories infused with filmmakers' opinions and beliefs largely devoid of a sense that America has an enemy intent on its destruction that makes the war a worthy cause, albeit infused with immense suffering. Unsurprising considering that of 400 films liberal Hollywood releases annually, Mr. Giglio estimates 5 percent to 10 percent present explicit and often latent political messages.

The newly released film The Messenger (2009) - focused tightly on two Army Casualty Notification Officers skillfully played by Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster - reflects this incomplete message.

Their task is to give next of kin (NOK) the tragic, deeply emotional news of their loved one's war-related death. Yet not one notification scene even hints that military families know the risks as well as the glories of war that come with sacrificing for one's country. Actress Samantha Morton's character Olivia is the only NOK who receives the horrid news with equanimity. But, as the film makes clear later on, Olivia disagrees with the war and has already personally disengaged from her husband - at least partially explaining her calm when the CNOs (chief nursing officers) come calling.

By contrast, The Divided - a small Capraesque film by Providence Productions - presents a more complete picture.

This story of Army Special Operations officer Cotton Cott ) St. Clair, posted in the Middle East, is artfully told by director Bennett Stein, whose parents were CIA operatives. …

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