The Politics of Movie Reviews

Yesterday, The NY Post printed a well written and somewhat scathing op-ed piece on some critical write-ups of HBO's production Taking Chance. Hollywood's obsession with politicizing the Iraq war has apparently extended to at least a few of its movie critics as well.

A little research beyond the quotes used in the NY Post piece will show you that Post writer Kyle Smith had plenty of material to work with.

Sundance Review: Taking Chance

It doesn’t take long for Taking Chance to cross the line from patriotic and affecting into cloying and desperate. This is a film frantic for tears and nationalistic fervor that, unfortunately, it just hasn’t earned.

Slant Magazine: Taking Chance

This is lazy filmmaking that fails to engage anyone who doesn't have a personal connection to the story or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Taking Chance

Given Bacon’s much-publicized fiscal troubles, it would be nice if Taking Chance were better, if only so that Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick can avoid selling hair care and exercise products on the Home Shopping Network in their dotage. But years after the bloody mire Chance died fighting in was initiated, it’s disheartening that American moviemakers are still capable of viewing the Iraq War in the simplest terms possible: as a wound to an essentially honorable American psyche, and maybe even a just cause and a sort of hero manufacturing device.

TV Review: Taking Chance

There is surely an edge of propaganda to the unfailing grace and dignity of the process showcased in "Taking Chance," replete with stirring music and intermittent mawkish overkill. But the story's power is sufficient to overcome the occasional histrionic flourish.

There was a time that things like this would simply make me shake my head. I am a Marine (no longer on active duty, but there are no "ex" Marines) and Taking Chance affected me deeply. I have watched it 3 times now, once with my 9 year old son. Every time I have watched it so far (and there will be more), I am surprised with just how much Kevin Bacon and HBO "got it right" with this one. It doesn't surprise me that there are critics who don't "get it" so much as it saddens me that they cannot look beyond their own ideology long enough to recognize that a non-political film can be made that honors the fallen; to people like those who wrote those reviews, honoring the fallen is a political statement. I no longer just shake my head at this.

(For the record, there is very little political discourse in Taking Chance. The only major exchange of politics, limited to a few lines, is from the hearse driver from Dover AFB, a young civilian who "doesn't get what we're doing over there." From then on, there are no images glorifying war. The only images of war in the entire film are a few seconds of a burning Humvee that Bacon's character briefly views on the news on a hotel room t.v. during his journey.)

Hollywood in general has had a huge problem with its portrayals of the Iraq War so far. It has worked very hard to drive a propaganda message firmly rooted in leftism about the war, and has monumentally failed. Films such as Stop Loss, Lions For Lambs, In the Valley of Elah, etc. have performed very poorly at the box office. Brian DePalma's film Redacted, probably the biggest travesty of a war film ever made, had only grossed $762,000 as of May 2008, when it had a budget of $5 million. It has become plainly evident that after being barraged by depressing news of the Iraq war from the popular media literally every day between 2004 and 2008, that Americans did not want to pay out their hard earned money at the box office to hear more of the same message.

It must be a small twist of the knife between the ribs for the Hollywood cadre to watch a t.v. film like Taking Chance (HBO's highest rated in-house film production in 5 years) see success where it has so often failed. It must also drive them insane to have to admit that the American viewing public is tired of having a leftist propaganda agenda driven down its collective throats and being told we have to pay through the nose for it too.

In short, collective Hollywood has gone to a lot of time, trouble and money to politicize the Iraq war, and failed. HBO made one movie, left out the politics and simply honored a fallen Marine, and succeeded. Instead of learning a lesson from this, some people would rather belittle the message of honoring those our nation has lost. The truly sad part is that this is no longer surprising.

Kids with military parents naturally ask lots of questions. They ask about scars, and the little remnants of the past that you keep out for others for see, and also about the things that they know you keep tucked away from others and hold for yourself. While my son and I watched Taking Chance together, he was especially curious about the personal effects belonging to PFC Phelps that LTC Strobl carried on his person, in a small red felt bag, and asked several questions about them. After the movie ended, my son turned to me and asked, "Do you have some of your friends' things, you know, like he had in that red bag for Chance's mom and dad?"

"Yes, I do."

"Will you let me see them sometime?"

I paused, thought about it, and answered, "Yes, I will, sometime, sometime soon."

He seemed content then, as if he could stand the curiosity of knowing what these things are for awhile longer, as long as he knew there would be answers eventually. The fact that he didn't need to ask why I would keep them still swells me with pride, even as I sit here and type this. It seems like such a simple message, but as the reaction of some to Taking Chance has shown, not everyone gets it.

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived. -- Gen. George S. Patton

Comment (1)


Well said. I will make it a point to watch the movie soon.