GUY RAZ, host:
There's a war happening in Turaqistan. Now, before you go checking your atlas, Turaqistan is a fictional country - well, sort of. Turaqistan's the setting for a new film, "War, Inc." It's a satire that tells the story of a war fought and managed by private defense contractors.
(Soundbite of movie, "War, Inc.")
Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) When did they start attacking inside the Emerald City?
Mr. JOHN CUSACK (Actor): (as Brand Hauser) I wouldn't call that an attack.
(Soundbite of explosion)
Mr. CUSACK: Well, technically that was a bombing. At least it sounded like it was, not an attack, which would imply something else.
RAZ: That's actor John Cusack who plays a morally conflicted hit man for the company in charge of running Turaqistan. He's there ostensibly to help organize a freewheeling commercial trade show.
Now, John Cusack didn't just star in the film - he co-wrote the script and helped fund the production. Cusack also recruited some of Hollywood's top talent, including Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Marisa Tomei, and teen idol Hilary Duff. He joins us now on the line from London. Mr. Cusack, welcome.
Mr. CUSACK: Hi.
RAZ: Before I ask you a question about the film, I want to play a brief clip. We're going to hear Dan Aykroyd in this clip. He plays the vice president, the former vice president of the United States in the film. And he now heads a fictional defense contractor. It's called Tamerlane, and they're rebuilding Turaqistan. And in this scene, Tamerlane is preparing to hold a commercial expo in a protected part of Turaqistan. Let's take a quick listen.
(Soundbite of movie, "War, Inc.")
Mr. DAN AYKROYD (Actor): (as The Vice President) This is a historic moment, Hauser. The first war ever to be 100 percent outsourced to private enterprise. Tamerlane jets, Tamerlane tanks, Tamerlane soldiers, and to top it all off, a brand new SA Expo.
RAZ: John Cusack, to say the least, this is not a subtle film you made. Why did you decide to go with satire?
Mr. CUSACK: Well, I think, you know, there's a large and glorious tradition of satire and comedy and absurdist comedy making fun of power elites and aristocracies. And I think the modern or postmodern world, these people are kind of corporate titans, you know. So, it just seemed like the situation's gotten so grave and the ideology behind this war is so radical and it's so destroying the country that I think a somber, serious take on it would just add to the sense of depression and inevitable doom that this administration has unleashed on the country.
So I think sometimes when you put an absurdist lens on it maybe you can see it a little bit more clearly and you can recapture your sort of sense of defiance and your spirit of outrage. And also, you know, what is absurdism but taking the current trends to their logical conclusions? And the argument of the Bush administration is that there's nothing, no function of state, there's no national interest that is not a corporate interest. Everything is to be privatized, everything is to be - the core function of government is to create the optimal conditions for a feeding frenzy.
RAZ: I've been to Iraq many, many times myself as a correspondent. And even though this film is obviously over the top, I was struck at how frighteningly familiar some of the scenes appear, sort of the interaction between the contractors and the locals; and the interaction between the contractor and the journalist. What kind of research did you do to make this film?
Mr. CUSACK: Basically I read everything I could and went through every independent news organizations and spoke with people who had been on the ground there, really tried to research it as much as I could. And when you get into that research you realize that it's really beyond anything that you could imagine. It's so kind of savage and absurd.
RAZ: John Cusack, talk to me a little bit about the obstacles that you faced in making this film. I mean, obviously, this is a very political film, it's overt and you're trying to send a message. I imagine you faced some pushback.
Mr. CUSACK: Yeah, I mean, I don't think you face the pushback, you know, in an overt way. I think people just try to ignore what you're saying and hope that you'll go away and won't choose to do it. And certainly we didn't get any corporate backing and none of the studios wanted to do it. But we did find a company that would do it so we did it for a very small budget and shot it in Bulgaria.
RAZ: In the film there are a lot of corporate logos, familiar ones - Coca-Cola, Popeye's Chicken, Financial Times. Did you have to get permission to use those?
Mr. CUSACK: We did, but we basically just sort of sent out the most innocuous sort of form letter we could and we hoped that people would, that the corporations would think, well, any press is good press and - or maybe they wouldn't read about what the movie's about. And so we just kept sending out form letters until we got back yeses. And we got yeses from those companies so we used them.
But I have to say the Financial Times on the tank was one of my proud, was one of our proud satiric accomplishments. Because, you know, after all, those papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times called Iraq a gold rush. And I think they were being quite accurate. You know, you build a frontier and because it's the most profitable thing you can do and a gold rush is a feeding frenzy.
RAZ: There's a particularly tough scene in the movie. It's where a group of dancers, can-can girls, are rehearsing for a performance, all of them with prosthetic limbs. Let's listen to that scene.
(Soundbite of movie, "War, Inc.")
Unidentified Actor: It's incredible. Each girl is a transfemoral amputee that lost her leg during the liberation.
Ms. JOAN CUSACK (Actor): (As Marsha Dillon) And thanks to Tamerlane's cutting-edge prosthetic devices, we can literally have you up and dancing before you know it.
Mr. CUSACK: Just another breathtaking example of how American know-how alleviates the suffering it creates.
RAZ: John Cusack, it's a pretty shocking scene. Why did you put it in the film?
Mr. CUSACK: Well, I think it's a mistake to think that comedy or humor or satire is supposed to just make you laugh. It's supposed to also make you think and it's okay to make you feel uncomfortable. So, I think you have to start with that premise.
RAZ: Why are you trying to tell this story now? I mean, the tide has turned in the United States. The war is overwhelmingly unpopular. What's the point of doing it now?
Mr. CUSACK: Well, I don't know. You know, when we conceived this, it was at the height of actually the war's popularity, and, you know, people were standing at podiums and lecterns saying, you know, people better watch what they say. When they were giving all these kind of McCarthyite warnings. So, I think it came out of a sense of outrage.
And I would say I don't relish sort of being an activist - not sort of something I would want to do - but I think in, maybe in 2008, being an activist is probably a pretty decent position to take if you want to sleep at night.
RAZ: Well, John Cusack, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. CUSACK: Oh, thanks for having me.
RAZ: John Cusack is the co-writer and the star of the film "War, Inc." He spoke to us from London.