Anti-war Movies Faltering at the Box Office
LUKE BURBANK, host:
Speaking of films, there's another new film opening today. It's a Brian de Palma project. It's called "Redacted" and it's been getting a certain amount of controversy. It's a kind of a documentary-style presentation. It covers a gruesome rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl and the killing of her family by U.S. soldiers.
(Soundbite of movie "Redacted")
Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) Slow down.
Unidentified Man #2: (As Character) Slow it down.
Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) Hey, hey, hey,
Unidentified Man #2: (As Character) Slow down.
Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) stop it. Stop the (bleep) car. Stop. Stop the (bleep) car. Charlie, we got one. Stop. Stop the (bleep). Stop.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
BURBANK: De Palma's aim is to sort of shock the audience with the brutal realities of the war in Iraq, which he is very open about his opposition to. He even uses real pictures of Iraqi casualties at the end of the film.
(Soundbite of movie "Redacted")
Mr. PATRICK CARROL (Actor): (As Reno Flake) And that car just kept coming right across that trigger line. What the (bleep) else am I supposed to do but light them up. Light them (bleep).
Mr. IZZY DIAZ (Actor): (As Angel Salazar) Did your job, all right. But, you know, Flake, you're not going to win many hearts and minds, pumping pregnant women for the lad though, right?
Mr. CARROL: (As Reno Flake) Now, what is this about, Sally?
Unidentified Man #3: (As Character) That's true, Sally(ph).
Mr. CARROL: (As Reno Flake) Come on, Salazar. I mean, what do you want me to do, get all teary-eyed and say I'm sorry? I'm so sorry.
Unidentified Man #4: (As Character) My life has been changed forever. Waxing Hajis is like stomping cockroaches. I've been there. I've done that and it makes me thirsty, so how about an ice-cold beer?
BURBANK: This is just another in a slew of anti-war theme movies that have been hitting the box office this year. Others were films like "Rendition," "In the Valley of Elah." They both flopped, and the critics are saying "Redacted" is likely to do the same.
All right. But here's a question about sort of classic war movies like "Apocalypse Now" or "Full Metal Jacket" or "Platoon." These are movies that sort of took on the Vietnam War in much the same way that these movies lately are taking on the Iraq War, although they were sort of critical and commercial hits, and we're kind of wondering what has changed.
Joining us now to talk about it is the film critic for the Washington Times, Christian Toto. Hi, Christian.
Mr. CHRISTIAN TOTO (Film Critic, The Washington Times): Hi.
BURBANK: Thanks for coming on. So, aside from "Redacted," what are the sort of the big - I named a couple of my guess, "Rendition," "In the Valley of Elah," what are the other - are there any other anti-war ones I missed?
Mr. TOTO: Well, "Lions for Lambs" came out.
BURBANK: Oh, right.
Mr. TOTO: And that's another huge one. And the difference between that and "Redacted" is significant because Lambs has Robert Redford and Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep as the big stars, the cast. And "Redacted" has no one. It's a bunch of lesser known to unknown actors in the parts. So whatever commercial possibilities it has, it certainly cut down quite a bit by that, but it may be de Palma is going for a different approach, hoping that familiar faces will not be distracting in this sense.
BURBANK: How do you figure that as sort of support for the war has eroded based on a lot of polls and, you know, it's an unpopular war to a lot of people, Hollywood certainly doesn't seem to like it. They put out these movies. It seems like it should be Oscar-bait and audience-bait, and they're kind of flopping, what gives?
Mr. TOTO: You know, on paper it is, but I think there's a couple of things going on: One, the public doesn't seem to want to see this kind of entertainment right now. There was an Iraq War TV series by Steven Bochco. That one flopped as well. None of these films have done well. It could be just the fact that we're inundated with material from op-ed pages to the news.
Everywhere we look, we have information of the war so if we want to go to the movies - movies, at its best, is escapism. It's not really escaping anything if you're seeing the same things over and over again.
Mr. TOTO: I think that's part of the problem.
Mr. TOTO: But also, the films have not been very good. I think some have gotten mixed reviews, some have gotten awful reviews. And I think that's definitely playing a part too. If a movie comes out like this and the early reviews are all raves, then maybe it nudges a few of the moviegoers to check it out. But if the critics are even not warm about it, then I think audiences take pause.
BURBANK: Do you think the people like when "Apocalypse Now" came out, you know, they can certainly make some analogies with the Vietnam War to the sort of war in Iraq in terms of being unpopular and such. That movie was a big hit. Were people just in a different state of mind then?
Mr. TOTO: Quite possibly. And again, it was released several years after the conflict have ended, so people maybe had the chance to process their emotions and they could see it in a more neutral basis and, you know, I think that may affect both the filmmakers and the audiences. A lot of the critics of the more recent films have said that these films are very full of speeches and it's very obvious what the political angle is.
And I think an artist, maybe if here she had some time to reflect in the material, may give a more nuanced, balanced performance. But maybe because their emotions are so hot at the moment, they can't really check themselves, they can't edit themselves and they just go with what they're feeling as opposed to maybe being more careful, more considerable about what they're doing.
BURBANK: Yeah. It's a little hard to not roll your eyes a little bit when some Hollywood person starts opining about, you know, some subject that they're only vaguely sort of, you know, versed on. And they kind of feel like, well, I'm a famous person and I, you know, I feel passionate about this and so, you know -and then when they make a whole movie based on kind of their, you know, passion about the world, I could see a real recipe for not self-awareness.
Mr. TOTO: Absolutely. You know, years ago, when "Apocalypse Now" came out, I don't think we knew the politics of every actor involved, maybe some, maybe a few but I don't think all. Today, we have lived in a different climate. There are so many talk shows and online chats and things like that. I think we know a lot about the actors and how they feel. And so even if we don't know what the movie, "Lions for Lambs" is about, we'll see Meryl Streep and we'll say, well, you know, I read that interview with her and she said this and that and I don't agree with that. So right away, you're cutting out some of your audience.
BURBANK: Christian Toto, film critic for the Washington Times. I want to thank you for coming on the show.
Mr. TOTO: Thanks for having me.
BURBANK: And I guess we'll keep our eyes peeled for any of these offerings that aren't lame coming out…
(Soundbite of laughter)
BURBANK: as the Christmas movie season gets underway.