When I tell any truth it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do. ~ William Blake
I am not a film-critic as most of you know. So the below is not meant to be a plot summary and some catchy thumbs-up-down analysis of the brilliant new John Cusack film -- a political black comedy on the Iraq war called appropriately War Inc. If you want background and snippets, then see here.
My interest in writing about the film right now, before its opening on May 23rd, is in the hope of saving it from what appears to be a distinct stench of blacklisting. No, I do not believe there is an organized, conspiratorial effort to shut-down a wide release of War Inc. Just to be clear, that is not what I am saying. In reality, we no longer need any organized effort because the mechanism of censorship is now so fully integrated into the body-politic of this nation anyway.
But I do think that there is an unspoken mega-understanding within mega-corporations and their wholly owned mega-writers that the film should be quietly escorted from the reach of the general public and instead, relegated to the outskirts of art-houses and small venues in a land far, far away.
Consider this idiotic review from the Toronto Star:
"It all adds up to a fast pace, lots of shooting, and a movie that, in its heart, is as corrupt as the politics it attempts to satirize."
That is a rather strong statement, is it not? Yet the writer of this nonsensical assertion never explains how War Inc. is "as corrupt as the politics it attempts to satirize." The words sound impressive, presented all glossy-like on the pages of a news publication. But read this idiocy again. It is total non-sense. This is the kind of contorted acrobatics the corporate press is entangling itself in so that they can justify why they are trashing this film. Seriously, unless War Inc. is responsible for the deaths of nearly a million Iraqis or even one Iraqi frankly, this assertion by the Star is closer someone's idea of acid-trip wit than it is a serious review of the film.
Are you surprised?
In an interview I recently did with John Cusack about his film he told me what a hard time he had getting a studio interested in the project and getting distributors to look at the finished product. I wondered how this could be possible given the all-star line-up which includes Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, Hillary Duff, and Joan Cusack.
And even now, after many well respected journalists and thinkers have fully backed the film, it still hangs in the balance of opening weekend results, or else it will be moved straight from its limited release to DVD - in other words, to a land far, far away.
But Look Here
Most mainstream critics have described War Inc. as either a failed attempt to recreate the political and social potency of Dr. Strangelove or as a tepid attempt at satirizing the Iraq war using over-the top and idiotic humor as the tool. Yet still others have described the film as failing simply because of timing. You see, we are still in the Iraq war; it is still too fresh, so the truth still hurts too much. In short, they don't "get" it.
Indeed the people who "get" War Inc., in their critiques and reviews are a smaller contingent than those who are busy panning it. But that smaller contingent is not a collective of "movie-critics" working for corporate owned publications. Rather, the people who "get" War Inc., are people I read, admire, and whose opinions I trust. They are people you read, admire and whose opinions you trust.
They are serious writers and thinkers who have spent a great deal of time in Iraq; who have broken new ground in reporting on the extent of corporate abuses and war profiteering; who many consider to be heroes.
The voices backing War Inc., include Gore Vidal, one of the finest thinkers of our time, Naomi Klein, one of the most respected journalists of our time, Jeremy Scahill, one of the few journalists to take on corporate profiteering in Iraq and at home, Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent for CBS and who has been stationed in Iraq all this long while, nearly losing her life while trying to inform us, the public (ensconced safely at home). To these voices I add my own, although much smaller voice, of support.
Surely these people should have more weight with distributors, movie theaters, and all the folks who come together and decide if something is thumbing up or down? Apparently not for those who decide if and when a movie becomes a flop.
In reading some of the corporate excuses/reviews used by the corporate writers to explain why they do not like the film, I become increasingly more and more incensed and puzzled. I would respect the corporate-pens more if they actually admitted having not seen the film or having lifted their opinion from another opinion-maker or to simply having been paid to trash the film. But to use arguments that are insufficient (the war is too fresh) and are ultimately ridiculous (it is not Dr. Strangelove) is disingenuous on their part and something I can easily remedy by pointing out why-- at least on the two most often used reasons for why the film "does not work."
Dr. Strangelove it is not...
This absurdist comedy clearly has aspirations to be this generation's "Dr. Strangelove," with its satirical attack on the privatization of the Iraq War. But despite its sterling cast and a screenplay written by such experienced farceurs as Cusack ("Grosse Pointe Blank"), Mark Leyner (the novel "Et Tu, Babe") and Jeremy Pikser ("Bulworth"), the film is far more groan- than laugh-inducing. Scheduled to hit theaters May 23, the First Look release is unlikely to counter the commercial malaise for war-themed films. ~The Hollywood Reporter
Although there are elements of Strangelove in War Inc., most notably in the near final scenes, it is not an attempt to translate an ineffable concept to a propagandized populace using humor as a vehicle by which to educate them.
John Cusack, Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser deliver something of a different animal in their screenplay.
Strangelove's brilliance is that it took an idea most of the public did not understand - the philosophy of nuclear deterrence through assured total mutual destruction - and stripped it of the political jargon, using comedy to make palatable the idiocy and duplicity of the Cold War arms race.
War Inc. does not attempt to emulate this formula at all nor does it claim to. Consider that we - the public - do not need to have the political opera translated for us. We don't need to be educated on a concept too hard to otherwise grasp. The majority of the public already knows that the reasons for the Iraq war were a lie, a willful, bold-faced lie by the leadership of this country.
The majority of the public already knows that the only people to benefit from the war are the private sector cronies of the Bush administration, some of whom are still stock holders in some of these private sector companies.
Most importantly, the majority of the public knows all of this despite billions of dollars spent by the Bush administration on illegal domestic and foreign propaganda to convince us otherwise.
Yet the pantomime continues, the charade goes on, the farce is on the march. So our reality becomes a sort of waking nightmare, a split reality where nothing is what it seems to be and everyone is lying about something. Everything is for sale, and we better continue buying as if in a 'wink-wink' way we are being threatened should we dare not play along.
So we play, but we scream anyway. We cry anyway. We rage anyway. But we play.
War Inc. magnifies that which we already know and that which we are being forced to play along with. It is not subtle, it is not meant to be. It is not meant for the 10% of the populace who await the End Times to come and save them from themselves. They won't get it, because to get it, you have to first know that our reality is all a lie for profit, only then can you grasp the massive cerebral hemorrhage that War Inc., delivers.
Think for a moment of the real-life desert of the real that we live in. The Bush administration and their paid proxies, for example, attack those who disagree with them on the Iraq war as not supporting our soldiers.
The term "irony" is not remotely strong enough to convey the horror of this rhetoric given that it is pouring out of the mouths of the very people who have lied to and exploited the troops, our troops.
The same people -- the Bush administration and their proxies -- sent thousands of US soldiers to their death through willful lies and abandoned the broken rest to a hell-hole wasteland of medical neglect -- have the arrogance to actually lecture us on supporting the troops.
Worse still, the corporate press echoes these same talking points. Yet we see right through all of this, don't we? It goes in circles and never stops. Is this not excruciatingly absurd? How does one find the logic of this chaos and maintain some semblance of sanity?
There is a scene in War Inc., which quite literally takes this perverted propaganda and puts it on stage in the form of a chorus-line of women whose legs have been amputated. Watching them kick up their metal prosthetic legs all the while smiling in thanks to the fictional defense contractor who has made their dance possible is bone-chilling. Yes, I laughed at the absurdity, but a sort of nervous laughter because crying long ceased to relieve the tension.
This scene captures perfectly that which we know about the twisted way in which the crimes of the Bush administration have actually hurt our troops and turns inside-out the talking points of the corporate press, directly aiming the sewage back against its origin.
No, War Inc. is definitely not a Dr. Strangelove remake. Rather, it is a mix of two other Kubrick classics, Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange, with a dash of the Wizard of Oz and a sprinkling of Strangelove to make the taste of the whole concoction palatable.
Too Fresh to be Funny...
Many of the corporate critics say the film pours salt on wounds still to raw, wounds still being inflicted. Well if John McCain gets his wish and we stay in Iraq for 100 years, then perhaps our grandchildren's grandchildren will be far removed enough from history to not be offended by it.
Consider this stunningly telling review:
A blackly comic take on the first totally outsourced war? We're too close to being in one right now, which makes this John Cusack vehicle too close for comfort. It's also so close to being funny you can just about taste it -- just about. ~ John Anderson, Variety
We are "too close to being in one right now?" Um, we are not too close, rather we are exactly there. The discomfort you are feeling Mr. Anderson is a necessary pinch to make sure you are still human. Are you? Are we?
Beyond the too-close-for-comfort meme, the real question here is at what point does the public's discomfort become necessary so that the truth of the Iraq war can finally come to light? Perhaps the time for less discomfort is yet to come, although I doubt that such a thing as war crimes could ever be something I am ever comfortable with or would ever want to be. Would you?
Yes, my discomfort in watching the film was visceral and I laughed too, but it was necessary for my sanity to have someone else tell me that they see what I see. It was for the benefit of those "who know" the truth that this movie was made. Not for those who rage against truth at all costs, perhaps in hopes of salvaging the little part of them that they can still call human.
Do what I do, not what they say
Ultimately, the success of this film will not rest with intellectually lazy film-critics or with the musings of privately owned members of the fourth estate. The success of this film will rest with you, the audience and with a grassroots movement that has thus far been the only force to keep this nation from diving fully into the arms of fascism. Make me proud and buy a ticket tomorrow. Show up in droves and see for yourselves if you think this film as brilliant and brave as I do.
I am counting on you the way you count on me, the way all of us who want courage from others must count on ourselves to support that courage when called upon to do so.
To read the reviews and learn more about War Inc, go to www.myspace.com/johncusack