In the New York Times – ‘Hollywood Quickly Bringing the Iraq War Home‘.
I wish I could be speechless – or at least senseless.
On Sept. 14, Warner Independent Pictures expects to release “In the Valley of Elah,” a drama inspired by the Davis murder, written and directed by Paul Haggis, whose “Crash” won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as a retired veteran who defies Army bureaucrats and local officials in a search for his sonâ€™s killers. In one of the movieâ€™s defining images, the American flag is flown upside down in the heartland, the signal of extreme distress.
Other coming films also use the damaged Iraq veteran to raise questions about a continuing war. In “Grace Is Gone,” directed by James C. Strouse and due in October from the Weinstein Company, John Cusack and two daughters struggle with the loss of a wife and mother who is killed on duty. Kimberly Peirceâ€™s “Stop-Loss,” set for release in March by Paramount, meanwhile, casts Ryan Phillippe as a veteran who defies an order that would send him back to Iraq.
In the past, Hollywood usually gave the veteran more breathing space. William Wylerâ€™s “Best Years of Our Lives,” about the travails of those returning from World War II, was released more than a year after the warâ€™s end. Similarly Hal Ashbyâ€™s “Coming Home” and Oliver Stoneâ€™s “Born on the Fourth of July,” both stories of Vietnam veterans, came well after the fall of Saigon.
“Media in general responds much more quickly than ever before,” said Scott Rudin, a producer of “Stop-Loss.” “Why shouldnâ€™t movies do the same?” He said his film was deliberately scheduled to be released in the middle of the presidential campaign season. (emphasis throughout added)
That impetus for immediacy is driving other filmmakers and studios as well. In October, for example, New Line Cinema will release “Rendition,” in which Reese Witherspoon plays a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is snared by a runaway counterterrorism apparatus. Paul Greengrass, the director of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” in which the bad guys belong to a similar rogue unit, is adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaranâ€™s book about the Green Zone in Baghdad, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” for Universal Pictures.
Brian De Palmaâ€™s “Redacted,” focusing on an Army squad that persecutes an Iraqi family, is to be released in December by Magnolia Pictures. And Sony Pictures is developing a film based on the story of Richard A. Clarke, the former national security official and Bush administration critic.
Among the new films, “Valley of Elah” is sure to be one of the most closely examined, thanks to Mr. Haggisâ€™s credentials – he shared an Oscar for writing “Million Dollar Baby” and was nominated for another as co-writer of “Letters From Iwo Jima” – and because of his opposition to United States policy in Iraq.
“This is not one of our brighter moments in America,” Mr. Haggis said in a telephone interview from London, where he is still working on the filmâ€™s music. “We should not have gotten involved.”
Still, Mr. Haggis insisted that “Valley of Elah” – the title refers to the site where David fought Goliath – was not intended to enforce his point of view. Rather, he said, it is meant to raise questions about “what it does to these kids” to be deployed in a situation where enemies are often indistinguishable from neutral civilians, and the rules of engagement may force decisions that are difficult to live with.
Despite some obvious fictionalization – the Fort Benning case did not involve the authority-challenging local detective and single mother played by Charlize Theron – the film hews closely enough to fact that Mr. Haggis is considering a dedication to Specialist Davis.
But whether the case truly speaks for returning veterans will not be easily settled, even with help from Warner Independent. The studio plans to supplement some of its promotional screenings with panel discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder, a factor raised in the movie.
“The issues are similar to what a lot of us are coping with,” said an approving Garett Reppenhagen, an Iraq veteran who saw “Valley of Elah” last week at one of the first such screenings in Washington. Mr. Reppenhagen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, helped recruit viewers for the screening.
By contrast, Dennis Griffee, a wounded veteran who is national commander of the Iraq War Veterans Organization, said he turned down a request to become involved with the film after learning that Susan Sarandon, a vocal opponent of the war, had a prominent role.
“At the very least it is offensive,” Mr. Griffee said of what he sees as a widespread refusal to acknowledge the troopsâ€™ pride at achievements in Iraq. He added that virtually every member of his platoon wound up in college, not jail, on return.
Ilona Meagher, who wrote “Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Americaâ€™s Returning Troops” (Ig Publishing) and has joined Warnerâ€™s promotional effort, acknowledged that the Davis case was among the most extreme of some 170 stress-related episodes she had documented since 2005. “We all know that human beings respond/are moved by stories that are more extreme in nature,” Ms. Meagher wrote in a follow-up e-mail message.
I saw Crash, and it was a film that could only have been made by someone who never set foot outside of Brentwood without a bodyguard. And from a culture that produced “Saw”, “Hostel”, and “Captive”, these films may be a step forward.
But the truely vile impact of our wealthiest – and spiritually poorest – citizen’s cultural output is best explained by Col. Dave Grossman.
I’ll post an explanation from his book ‘On Combat’ tomorrow.