Saturday, December 1, 2007

To Be Or Not To Be

I don't make it to many movies at the theatre. I tend to rent videos instead. But somehow last night the stars most unexpectedly aligned. And I jumped at the chance.

We went to see Lions for Lambs.

So. I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting. I know there has been some talk about a slew of recent movies dealing with the Iraq war and 'modern day' veterans. Movies like Redacted and a few others. And quite frankly, the talk I was hearing ... wasn't good. Actually I saw snippets of a made for TV one last month. The Marines who come back from Iraq and plan their bank heist. Notice I say 'snippets' ... it didn't particularly interest me.

Anyway, as some may know (she says with a fair degree of understatement) one of my favourite places to hang out in cyberspace over the past year and a half has been a milblog. One particular milblog. Hang out in such a place for a while and you'll likely either find yourself leaving town in a hurry or you'll make a few new friends. I would like to think I've made a few friends.

At any rate, there's no doubt that what I've learned ... and debated ... and, even occasionally, rolled my eyes over ... there has changed my view of the world somewhat. And I know it affected how I viewed this movie. What I don't know ... what I haven't quite decided yet, is what I think of the movie.

Actually, let me take that back. I liked the movie.

What I'm not sure about is what, exactly, the movie, itself, was trying to say. Directed by Robert Redford. With Himself and Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep in starring roles. Although it might be said that the two soldiers, portrayed by Michael Pena and Derek Luke, were the real stars heroes.

I went with a friend who is very smart, very insightful and can only be characterized in this context as "anti" ... against the US being in Iraq and against the US and other countries being in Afghanistan. And initially, at least, we both seemed to see the movie very different ways. She asked me at one point whether this was the "ultimate government propaganda piece". I responded that I was reserving judgment. Because it seemed to swing both ways. And for what its worth, that's what it continually did from my point of view. From beginning. To end.

The rest of this post is full of spoilers. So if you're even slightly considering watching the movie (which I hope you will), please don't read it. Just trust me when I say that no matter what you might think it is, whatever way you tend to think it leans, you're probably wrong. Just go watch it. Its worth the nine bucks. But if there's not a chance in hell that you will ever see it, then you might as well keep reading. After all, I do this for gratis.

Still here? Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you.

I love Tom Cruise. Or use to anyway.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And in this movie, for the first half, I just loved to hate him. The consummate too smooth oh-so-sincere [NOT] politician. Feeding his lines to the reporter. As to how they were going to 'save' the war in Afghanistan. While, literally at the same time, the soldiers were taking 'small arms fire' in the helo. Resulting in one getting shot out. And his friend jumping out after him. Over the snowy mountains in Afghanistan. I wanted to smash Cruise in the face. And drop him on the mountain.

The politician was an idiot.
And the reporter? She was smart. And cynical. And not falling for it.

But ... it was back and forth.
While 'admitting" some 'mistakes' were made in Iraq, Cruise responds to a question from the reporter with a few truly moving lines. About the morning of Sept 12, 2001. Which clearly moved the reporter. And moved me. I mean, they were good.

Back and forth.
In this movie, there was no need to say that the war in Iraq was history. That was so clearly implied that it didn't even have to be stated. So it wasn't. Might as well just save the day in Afghanistan instead.

Back and forth.
The reporter, while looking really good initially, goes back to her office and goes off the deep end. She 'knows' the government is lying. She's not going to lay this one out for them. No way. Not her. Suddenly portrayed as a 50 something hot-flash experiencing female with no fashion sense who had clearly taken leave of her senses ... Let's just say, she looked like she finally went off her rocker. Didn't make the media look so good.

Back and forth.
The two soldiers I mentioned above ... well, this was the movie that would let you, in all good conscience, support the troops without supporting the mission. If that's what you were inclined to do.

Back and forth.
But those same two soldiers, while students, had some really good stuff to say. About the need to get citizens engaged. Their idea was to drop one of the three years of college and turn it into a volunteer year. Whether it was in the military or some form of community service. Let's just say I know a few conservatives who wouldn't just echo those thoughts ... I've actually read them say them.

Back and forth.
Redford, as the prof at a "university in California" (of course, where else would he be?) was definitely against the GWOT. No doubt about that. In fact he had tried to talk those two soldiers, former students of his, out of going.

Back and forth.
But he had served in Vietnam. And stated more than once that although he disagreed with their decision and did his best to talk them out of it, he admired what motivated them to go.

Back and forth.
The prof was trying to talk a current student out of his apathy. To motivate him. To do. Something. Anything. But not join the military. At least, I don't think so.

Back and forth.
But at the end, when the student watches the TV footage (showing what we know to be the operation where the two soldiers died), the look on his face ... well, I would say he had come out of his apathy. But I wasn't sure whether it was to go 'fix' what was 'wrong' in Washington or to join the military himself.

And when my friend and I talked about the movie afterwards (which we both agreed was good for the simple reason that it didn't try to hit you over the head with the 'right' answer or even spoon feed it to you as so many movies do), I found her last words quite interesting. Words to the effect that since most people don't do a whole lot of thinking when they go to see a movie, this movie could (and would) be interpreted to conform with whatever view you went in with. If you were against the GWOT, you would see this movie as backing you up. If you thought being in Iraq and Afghanistan was the right thing, again you would see this movie as backing you up.

I like to skim the comment boards at after watching a movie. And this one appears to be one of those "either you love it or you hate it" ones. Which is okay. Except that there's not a lot of consistency behind the loving and the hating. A lot appear to see it as more liberal propaganda. And others think it promotes the war.

And I actually found this comment on the boards.

have been reading a lot...that's an gross understatement... of peoples' posts that accuse this movie of being a left wing anti-war piece of crap. One poster actually went so far as to say the movie showed that soldiers die for nothing.

I watched this movie at a screening in Vegas with a few friends. We all fit in the 18-24 age demographic, and are (or should I say were?!) "typical" anti-war college guys. (I know we may not be typical, but it seems to me that many people believe this to be true)

What I found strange is that I came away from that movie seriously considering joining the armed forces, as were my buddies. What happened to the soldiers represented (to me) believing in something strong enough that you are willing to stand up in front of the enemy and take that bullet with a pride that I have never known. I believe this was a deliberate action taken by the director regardless of Mr. Redford's obvious liberal background.

Sure there is plenty of "liberal" discussion, but Cruise's character really made me think about the media selling the war, as that kinda does happen in real life. And I could see the eyes of Redford's character, knowing that there is in fact a subliminal "conservative" agenda, in this film.

And I love that. There are too many movies with obvious "liberal" points of view, and I'm glad I saw one from the other side.

My question is why all the negative views? I came away wanting to physically join the fight on terror, and discuss with my buddies proper solutions to the war, not mindless banter about the 'lies' of the establishment and exit plans. Maybe it was just us, I mean maybe we were able to sit with an open mind through all of the "liberal" talk of Streep's character, and catch a glimpse of a movie with a special message:

Sure question all you want but do you really want to change things? To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure why more liberals aren't posting about the blatant recruiting tactics used in the movie. They do plenty of bitching about recruitment on college and high school campuses.

Me? I still can't pigeon hole it. But I liked it.

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